(updated from 12:00 a.m.) The last-minute and now widely-controversial Joint Finance Committee Motion #375 that bars citizen challenges and opens the door to potentially-damaging high-volume well drilling in Wisconsin has turned into something of an orphan.
The number of these so-called high-capacity wells in Wisconsin has exploded exponentially in recent years due to sprawl, expanding dairy and agricultural operations and dozens of new frac sand mines.
Though elected representatives usually enjoy touting their handiwork, neither Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, (R-Rochester), or State Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, (R-Town of Cascade), the relatively low-profile legislator who introduced Motion #375 (and an earlier version, #347) without a hearing, study or advance notice - - one GOP colleague said he was "blindsided" by the motion - - have not exactly jumped at an offer to talk about the measure.
I had sent LeMahieu's office this Open Records request Saturday:
Pursuant to the Wisconsin Open Records statute, I am requesting at your earliest convenience access to all emails, letters, memos, reports and other written correspondence to or from you or your staff, or otherwise in your possession, or your staff's possession on the development of and introduction to the Joint Committee on Finance of motions #347 and #375 (resolutions covering high-capacity well permit applications and appeals).LeMahieu's office on Monday morning responded with three items: The text of, and explanatory notes for Motions #347 and #375 and the text of an email from a constituent objecting to the motion.
I enclose a link to an ag publication making reference to these motions, should there be any confusion as to what items I am asking for - - http://www.wisconsinlakes.org/index.php/current-legislative-a-legal-issues/133-limits-to-challenging-high-capacity-well-permits#Links
In response to a follow-up inquiry from me, LeMahieu's office shortly after noon on Monday responded by bumping my request for an interview about Motion #375 to the office of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
That interview request, along with an Open Records submission identical to the request to LeMahieu's office, was sent to Vos' office Monday afternoon and again on Tuesday afternoon, but the none of the Open Records or interview requests were acknowledged or answered by Vos or his office as of 10:00 a.m. Wednesday.
Here is the text of motion #347 provided by LeMahieu's office:
Move to specify that, in making a determination about whether a proposed high capacity well permit should be granted, DNR may consider only the environmental impact of that proposed high capacity well and may not consider the cumulative environmental impact of the proposed high capacity well together with existing wells.Here is the text (and notes) for the more-expansive motion #375 provided by LeMahieu's office:
NATURAL RESOURCES - ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
Cumulative Environmental Impacts of High Capacity Wells - Not Grounds to Challenge Permitting Decision
Move to specify that a person may not challenge an application for, or a permit for, a high capacity well based on the lack of consideration of the cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed high capacity well together with existing wells when approving the high capacity well permit.
This provision would apply to applications for high capacity well permits and high capacity well permits in effect before, on, or after, the effective date of the bill, and for applications and permits for which final administrative or judicial review has not been completed on the effective date of the bill.
Section 281.34 of the statutes requires an owner to obtain approval from DNR before construction of a high capacity well. A "high capacity well" means a well that, together with all other wells on the same property, has a capacity of more than 100,000 gallons per day.
Section 281.34 (4) relates to environmental review and requires that DNR shall review an application for approval of any of the following using the environmental review process in its rules promulgated under s. 1.11 of the statutes: (1) A high capacity well that is located in a groundwater protection area; (2) A high capacity well with a water loss of more than 95 percent of the amount of water withdrawn; or (3) A high capacity well that may have a significant environmental impact on a spring. If the department requests an environmental impact report under s. 23.11 (5) for a proposed high capacity well, the department may only request information in that report that relates to the decisions that the department makes under this section related to the proposed high capacity well. Section 281.34 (5) includes standards and conditions for approval of high capacity wells.
Issues have been raised in legal proceedings regarding the extent to which DNR must consider, may consider, or may not consider, the environmental impacts of existing wells when making a decision on whether or not to approve a permit for a proposed high capacity well related to both statutory requirements and Article 9, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution (known as the public trust doctrine). For example, a recent DNR decision to approve a high capacity well permit for a confined animal feeding operation is currently the subject of a contested case hearing, relating to whether DNR should have considered cumulative environmental impacts when it issued the permit.