Natural Resources Board Environmental March Update

March 29, 2019

The Natural Resources Board (NRB), the policy-making body for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), took action on two environmental rules at its meeting on February 27, 2019.  First, the NRB approved a preliminary hearing on a scope statement relating to air rules that would be applicable to two industrial source categories:  Miscellaneous Metal and Plastics Coatings; and Miscellaneous Industrial Adhesives.  Second, the NRB approved a scope statement relating to updating rules applicable to nonferrous metallic mining.  Nonferrous metallic mining relates to mining for metals other than iron ore.

Air Rules

The air rules at issue are being forwarded to bring Wisconsin’s rules into conformance with federal Clean Air Act requirements.  These rules relate to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) from businesses in the source categories mentioned above that are located in certain ozone nonattainment areas.  Air emission sources for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued “control techniques guidelines” are required to implement control technology, known as “Reasonably Available Control Technology,” to limit VOC emissions.  These rules are also required to be in place in order to obtain the EPA’s approval to redesignate certain nonattainment areas to attainment.

Under the Clean Air Act, there are five levels of classifications for nonattainment.  From the least severe to the most severe, these classifications are marginal, moderate, serious, severe, and extreme.  Regulatory requirements increase as the classifications become more severe.  These rules will apply to areas classified as “moderate” nonattainment areas, which includes all of Sheboygan County, and eastern Kenosha County.  It should be noted, however, narrow portions of six other counties along Lake Michigan are designated as “marginal” ozone nonattainment areas.   If those areas are reclassified as “moderate” in the future, these rules could apply in those areas as well.

The DNR estimates that these rules will impact about twenty sources. The preliminary hearing on the scope statement was held at 10:00 am on March 8th, at State Natural Resources Building.

Mining Rules

DNR’s current nonferrous metallic mining rules were promulgated in 1982, and do not reflect a number of statutory changes that have been made since that time. These rules relate to mineral exploration, mineral prospecting, mineral mining, and mineral mining wastes.

More specifically, the DNR is proposing to modify these rules to reflect statutory changes contained “in 2017 Wisconsin Act 134, correct inconsistencies between the administrative rules and the statutes, and to provide greater clarity to provisions that have historically been challenging to interpret and administer.”

Perhaps the most significant changes that will be proposed relate to Act 134, which became effective on January 5, 2018.  Some of the rule changes that will be considered relate to:

  • Incorporating how groundwater quality standards apply at mining sites;
  • Incorporating new financial assurance provisions;
  • Incorporating a new permitting requirement, requiring the DNR to determine that a proposed project will include technology that will ensure compliance with environmental requirements;
  • Incorporating provisions for bulk sampling;
  • Revising the permitting process for mining and prospecting;
  • Incorporating changes pertaining to the regulation of wetlands located by mining activities and the elimination the irrevocable trust fund; and
  • Exempting mining waste facilities from certain fees.

The DNR anticipates a significant amount of interest in this rulemaking effort.  The DNR intends to establish an advisory committee to help craft these rules, and it anticipates taking proposed rules out for hearing in late 2019 or early 2020.

Forestry Legacy Program Easement Purchase

In other action, the DNR also approved the purchase of a 14,352 acre working forest easement in the amount of $4,841,000 for the Forestry Legacy Program in Lincoln County. $400,000 of the purchase price will be placed in to an endowment, with earnings available for road maintenance on the easement.  The easement was purchased from the Keweenaw Land Association, Ltd.

The purpose of the Forestry Legacy Program is to:

  • Preserve and protect the land for sustainable forestry and to maintain the undeveloped character of the property;
  • Manage the property as a portion of the underlying landowner’s commercial timber harvest base;
  • Provide the public with access to the property for recreational purposes; and
  • To accomplish these benefits at a cost lower than what it would cost to buy fee title for the property.

This easement is next to the Twin Lakes Forestry easement of 13,805 acres, the Moose Lake State Natural Area, and thousands of acres of county forest lands. According to the DNR:

“The tracts that comprise the easement area are critical to connecting existing public lands in addition to providing land and road access for public outdoor recreation.  The property included in the easement will be managed by private owners and continue the tradition of a working forest that contributes to Wisconsin’s economic well-being.  Forestry ranks among the top 10 industries by output and value-added contributions in Wisconsin generating nearly $30 billion annually and creating approximately 60,000 jobs.”

For more information about "Natural Resources Board Environmental March Update," contact Patrick Stevens at pstevens@axley.com or 262.409.2296.