A Column of Personal Opinion by State Senator Sheila Harsdorf
A recent wave of federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are receiving significant attention in Wisconsin and in states across the country, due to their potential impact on the everyday lives of residents and on economic development. These regulations may soon affect our gas and energy prices, our ability to use wood for home heating, and the ability to grow manufacturing jobs.
One of the EPA rules currently being considered would make significant changes to regulations on electricity generation, which has been called the “most sweeping federal regulations” on power plants in U.S. history. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), which is responsible for oversight of utilities in our state, has submitted information to the EPA describing the negative effect the regulations as currently drafted would have on working families and economic growth. A study of the impact of these new regulations on energy users estimated that the average Wisconsin household would see electricity and gas bills increase by nearly $500 per year by 2020. In a study completed by PSC, electricity rate increases of around 30% in Wisconsin were predicted in order to comply with these new regulations.
At the same time that the EPA is seeking new regulations on energy production that would increase rates paid by homeowners, the EPA is also enacting more stringent rules affecting heating systems that utilize wood as a fuel source. Wood heating is an economical alternative for many Wisconsin families, particularly in rural areas, and our state is among the top ten states in the use of wood and pellet stoves for heating homes. While wood heating has proven to be a cost-effective and renewable home heating source, the new EPA regulations are expected to result in increased consumer prices for wood stoves and furnaces. I joined nearly forty of my legislative colleagues in sending a letter to the EPA expressing our concerns with the impact of these rules on the budgets of Wisconsin residents.
A third rule being pushed by the EPA seeks to reduce ground-level ozone standards to levels so low that they may be unattainable and indistinguishable from naturally occurring levels. In fact, the ozone levels being proposed by the EPA are so extreme that twelve national parks would not be in compliance, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks. These new regulations are being proposed despite the fact that ground-level ozone has decreased by 33% since 1980 and the EPA scrapped similar proposed changes in 2011.
Areas that fail to meet ozone targets are classified as “nonattainment areas” and subject to stiff consequences. A number of counties in southeast Wisconsin have been subject to nonattainment classification and costly mandates, due in part to the effect of ozone levels in the greater Chicago area. While western Wisconsin has not been designated as a nonattainment area in the past, these new regulations may impact counties in our region should the Twin Cities area be classified as a nonattainment area as a result of the EPA’s proposed standards. The ozone regulations could require manufacturers in our area to compete with manufacturers throughout the Twin Cities metro area for credits before they would be allowed to expand their operations and create jobs.
While protecting our natural resources and ensuring clean air and water are important to our state and country, it is critical that regulations are enacted in a commonsense fashion and reflect the available technology to achieve compliance. Enacting costly, unattainable, and imprudent federal mandates on households, job creators, and state and local governments does not serve to improve our communities or economy. I look forward to continuing to work with my legislative colleagues to improve our environment using sound and rational protections rather than misguided Washington-driven policies.