A regulatory reform bill proposed Tuesday by Gov. Scott Walker would place new restrictions on wind development and calls for a special exemption for a Neenah-based businessman and contributor to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.
The bill also would require any agency’s proposed rule to be signed off by the governor’s office before it can take effect, and expands the economic impact reporting requirements for proposed agency rules.
The special exemption involves water quality requirements for a wetland in Brown County owned by businessman and automobile dealer John Bergstrom.
Bergstrom has been working on a retail project in Brown County for about a year. His attorney, Paul Kent of Madison, said the development has been approved by the Department of Natural Resources but had been opposed by an environmental group. The project would be at the intersection of Highway 41 and Lombardi Ave.
In a statement, Walker said, “We need to ensure that state agencies are focused on job creation. The proposed review process will make sure only the most necessary rules are implemented so businesses are no longer held back by the costs of overregulation.”
The governor had previously announced plans to streamline the development of agency rules to ensure state agencies aren’t overreaching in enacting rules that affect businesses.
Democrats criticized the measure.
“This is a huge power grab on the governor’s behalf,” said Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison).
Bergstrom has been a big campaign contributor for years to state candidates and committees from both parties, donating $16,700 since July 2008, records show.
Last year, he gave $1,000 to Walker and $1,250 to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat who ran against Walker for governor.
In the fall, he gave $1,400 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $1,000 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate and $500 to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said in a statement: “The rule package is intended to add accountability back into the rule making process.”
Walker’s bill contains a series of changes to siting requirements for wind farms that developers of such projects said would make building wind turbines much more difficult than a rule proposed last month by the state Public Service Commission.
Wind power developers on Tuesday called one requirement in the measure to move wind turbines farther from properties than is now required a jobs-killer because it would make new projects too costly.
The bill would require wind turbines to be set back at least 1,800 feet from the nearby properties, which is more restrictive than a recently enacted Public Service Commission rule. That rule would require large turbines to be built at least 1,250 feet from nearby homes.
The wind firms said proposals that would make wind siting more restrictive could send wind developers, and the construction and manufacturing jobs linked to wind power, out of state.
“Repealing or modifying the wind siting law will send a message to manufacturers, developers, and investors that Wisconsin is not open for this particular business, which can be a key contributor to Wisconsin’s manufacturing renaissance,” a coalition of wind developers and suppliers said in a letter to the administration and legislative leaders.
Walker sought wind siting changes to address “concerns on wind energy policy that impacts homeowners,” Werwie said. “If enacted, this legislation will protect the private property rights for all Wisconsin citizens.”
The thorny issue of how close wind turbines should be built to homes has dogged the state’s energy policy for several years. The Legislature wrestled with the issue before deciding to forward the matter to the Public Service Commission and an advisory council to debate.
Bill Rakocy, a partner in the development firm Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, said his wind farm, the state’s newest wind development, would have only one turbine instead of eight if an 1,800-foot setback were imposed.
The Shirley Wind project opened in November in southern Brown County.
“If the setbacks are expanded further than they already have been, it would create a major obstacle to wind, and the construction jobs and manufacturing opportunities that could go with it. It would be an unfortunate turn of events,” he said.
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