Republicans are fond of complaining about environmental regulations, saying they tangle companies up in red tape, killing jobs and shrinking profits.
So perhaps it's not surprising that Gov. Scott Walker is targeting a new rule, approved last December, to limit phosphorus in Wisconsin's streams and lakes. Walker at first sought to significantly weaken the rule and now wants to delay its implementation for two years.
But in fact, the rule in Walker's crosshairs has been praised by industry groups and could save factories and sewerage districts hundreds of millions of dollars.
"You can fix this in a very expensive way or a very affordable way," says Melissa Malott, chair of the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission and a lawyer at Clean Wisconsin.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has in recent years been pressuring Wisconsin and other states to set maximum allowable standards for phosphorus in waterways.
About 80% of phosphorus pollution comes from non-point sources like farms, as fertilizer and manure run off their fields into waterways. But "point-source" polluters like municipal sewage treatment plants and industrial factories, which discharge waste at fixed locations, are more heavily regulated and required to have permits.
When a waterway exceeds pollution levels, the state looks to these permitted polluters first. But it's extremely expensive for point-source polluters to curb phosphorus.
For instance, David Taylor of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District estimates Madison would have to spend about $95 million over 20 years to install and maintain controls at its plants - costs that would be passed on to ratepayers.
Statewide, the cost of installing controls to curb phosphorus at factories and sewage plants could top $1.5 billion, Malott says. And so the state Department of Natural Resources worked with environmental, industry and municipal groups to craft an innovative plan that the EPA has promoted in other states.
Rather than force companies to spend millions on controls that would have limited effects on water quality, the state would let these companies fund mitigation efforts at farms within the watershed, potentially curtailing pollution more effectively at a much lower cost.
Edward Wilusz, vice president of the Wisconsin Paper Council, says paper companies could be potentially "hit very hard" by phosphorus regulations. That's why the companies supported the DNR's adaptive management strategy, because it provided "some flexibility."
Malott fears putting off the rule could have harsh consequences for Wisconsin. One possibility is that the state could be found in violation of the Clean Water Act and the EPA could take over its regulation of point-source polluters. And the feds, she says, wouldn't allow as much flexibility as state regulators: "If the EPA comes down and takes over the program, these permitted entities would foot the bill for Walker's mistake."
Madison, Dane County start redistricting
Madison has begun the process of redrawing Common Council districts based on the 2010 census.
With a population slightly above 233,000, says city planner Brian Grady, the city will seek to keep all 20 districts at about 11,660 people. That means districts that have grown in population must shrink in size; others will have to grow.
The census map (PDF) shows that Madison's downtown area and the city's peripheral areas on both the east and west have grown the most. Ald. Mike Verveer's downtown district needs to shed 2,267 people, while Ald. Bridget Maniaci's district on the near east side needs to gain 2,605 residents.
Districts currently represented by Lauren Cnare, Joe Clausius, Judy Compton, Paul Skidmore, Jed Sanborn and Steve King also must shrink.
Dane County takes the lead on redistricting, drawing tentative boundaries for county supervisors, expected by the end of May. The city will then take this map and redraw wards - "the building blocks" of every district, Grady says. This is expected to be done by the end of July.
In reshaping districts, Grady says the city tries to preserve "natural boundaries," honoring major roadways, environmental corridors and communities of interest, such as neighborhood groups.
But even within these guidelines, different outcomes are possible. Says Grady, "Some call it more of an art than a science because there's so many different ways you could take this."
Last week, Gov. Walker signed.
The idea, taken from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, aims to improve reading scores among students in kindergarten through third grade. But Walker's plan also removes one of the main tools for students to learn: reading specialists.
All school districts are currently required to have reading specialists. Walker's order eliminates this requirement, much to the dismay of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
"Eliminating experts who teach students - especially those who struggle most - how to read at the same time he's creating new reading requirements is poor policy," said the union in a statement. "If you want to elevate student reading standards you should concentrate on giving them the individualized resources they need to succeed."
Joe Quick, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, says many districts "can probably share a reading specialist." But he notes other peculiar things about Walker's initiative. For instance, the task force is being placed within the Department of Administration, not the Department of Public Instruction.
Quick says, "It seems like the individuals who work at DPI have a better understanding of reading issues than the Department of Administration."
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.