The Structure of the NRB is Rigged against Employers and must be Reformed

In a previous memorandum dated February 13th, 2015, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) presented a case study highlighting the negative economic consequences of ceding unchecked policy making authority to the Natural Resource Board (NRB) and argued that the Legislature must take back the authority it had previously granted to the NRB. Legislators contemplating their response to Governor Walker’s proposal to make the NRB advisory should also be aware of a fundamental flaw in the structure of the NRB that stacks the deck against employers, especially manufacturers, and in favor of environmentalist special interests.

Eric Bott explains how an unelected board is stalling entire industries, costing businesses millions, and diverting resources from helpful environmental programs and job creation in WMC’s weekly politics show, Two Minute Drill

While representatives of environmentalist groups have often enjoyed prominent appointments to the NRB, current and past employees of manufacturers are generally prevented from serving to provide balance. A provision of the Clean Water Act as codified in Wis. Stat. §15.34(2)(c), precludes from service on the board any citizen who receives or has received within the previous 2 years, a significant portion of their income directly or indirectly from a holder of a waste water discharge permit. This single provision largely prohibits entire industries including cheese makers, pulp and paper mills, food processors, and utilities from ever having representation on the NRB. These industries are heavily impacted by actions taken by the NRB yet have no voice in the process.

Wis. Stat. §15.34(2)(d) further limits business participation on the board, by limiting the representation of holders of air permits. Assuming that a representative of a manufacturer is able to slip through these limitations and receive appointment to the NRB, their ability to participate in board discussions on environmental regulations is largely eliminated by prohibitions found elsewhere in the statutes. Wis. Stat. §23.125(1) and §23.125(2) prevent NRB members from participating in discussions or decisions relating to environmental permitting if those matters relate substantially to permits held by their business, employer, or recent employer. In other words, the business perspective on many environmental regulatory matters is censored while appointees from environmentalist special interests have free reign to advance their agenda. This fact poses significant problems for Wisconsin manufacturers. The NRB exercises substantial policy making authority over permitting matters that can literally determine the ability of a business to operate yet Wisconsin’s largest economic sector is principally denied the right of representation on the board. Would the Legislature tolerate a prohibition on farmers serving on the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board?

It is contrary to America’s system of Representative Democracy to grant such vast powers over so many Wisconsinites without providing for representation of those citizens on the board. Those powers should be restored to their proper place in the Wisconsin State Legislature. WMC respectfully requests your support for Governor Walker’s proposed reforms to the NRB.

By Eric Bott, WMC Director of Energy & Environmental Policy