Although Governor Scott Walker proposed a number of sweeping changes to education policy, transportation funding and UW System administration, also included in his proposed budget were significant changes to the state’s environment and natural resources programs and agencies.

Among the most significant modifications are:

  • Prohibitions on the Stewardship Fund from obligating new debt for land purchases until 2028;
  • Changing the natural resources board to an advisory council from a policymaking body;
  • Elimination of earmarks for a number of grant and loan programs administered by the Department of Natural Resources; and
  • Discontinuation of grants under the PECFA fund.

Although significant portions of the Governor’s budget will be adopted without modification by the Legislature, certain provisions have attracted attention from both policymakers and stakeholders and will be subject to closer scrutiny than the majority of those items included in the budget. Among those items receiving a closer look from legislators, include:

  • Stewardship fund modifications;
  • Clean Water Fund modifications; and
  • Authorization for increased bonding authority for a number of state grant and loan programs.

Following is a full list of significant modifications to the state’s environment and natural resources programs included in the Governor’s budget. More information will be provided as additional and updated information becomes available. However, your Stafford Rosenbaum attorney or government relations team can also provide additional information on an ongoing basis.

Highlights of changes to funding and programs affecting the state’s environment and natural resources include:

  • Increases the general obligation bonding authority for nonpoint source pollution abatement and targeted runoff management programs by $7,000,000.
  • Increases the general obligation bonding authority for urban nonpoint source cost-sharing programs by $5,000,000.
  • Recommends allowing revenue from contaminated removal bonds to be used for contaminated sediment remediation projects located outside of the Great Lakes Basin, increases bonding for these programs by $5,000,000 and appropriates funding all debt service on new and existing pollution abatement bonds from the environmental fund.
  • Reduces funding for watershed nonpoint source contracts by $770,000 in each year and funding for urban nonpoint source environmental aids $813,200 in each year.
  • Transfers $1 million in each year of the biennium from the agricultural chemical cleanup fund to the nonpoint account of the environmental fund.
  • Eliminates grants for certain programs in the first year of the biennium including: (a) environmental education; environmental assessments; (b) Wisconsin bioenergy initiative; (c) extension recycling education; and (d) solid waste research and experiments.
  • Establishes an agricultural water-quality initiative using $250,000 SEG annually in existing soil and water management grants for the implementation of nonpoint source pollution abatement practices.
  • Recommends transferring all regulatory authority related to the review of private on-site wastewater treatment systems, as well as position and associated funding from the Department of Safety and Professional Services to the Department of Natural Resources.
  • Transfers authority from the natural resources board to the secretary of natural resources and changes the board to a council, which is an advisory body, rather than a policymaking entity as under current law.
  • Requires DNR to develop a plan to move the headquarters of the Division of Forestry from the city of Madison to a northern Wisconsin location, including a description of the costs of relocating the headquarters, a timeline for implementing the relocation, and a list of location options.
  • Eliminates DNR’s authority to award discretionary urban forestry grants to local governments and certain other entities for activities relating to trees and tree projects in urban areas and limits the purposes for which DNR may award cost−sharing urban forestry grants to damage caused by disease or catastrophic storm events.
  • Provides that, if timber cutting is required under the terms of an MFL management plan, the owner is not required to obtain DNR approval of the cutting if prior notice is provided to DNR by a cooperating forester.
  • Prohibits DNR from obligating amounts under the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson land acquisition stewardship conservation program beginning in fiscal year 2015−16 if the general fund annual debt service under the stewardship program exceeds $54,305,700. (Note: This provision has the effect of imposing a moratorium on stewardship land purchases until 2028. The program is set to expire in 2020.)
  • Requires DNR to set aside an additional $7,000,000 in fiscal year 2016−17 and an additional $7,000,000 in fiscal year 2017−18 to be obligated for the purpose of infrastructure improvements to the Kettle Moraine Springs fish hatchery.
  • Increases DNR’s bonding authority by $4,000,000 to contract public debt to fund a dam safety program, the debt service on which is paid from the general fund, by $4,000,000.
  • Increases certain fees for vehicle admission receipts, which a vehicle must display to enter any state park or certain other properties under the jurisdiction of DNR and increases the nightly fees for use of a campsite in a state park, state forest, or other lands under the jurisdiction of DNR.
  • Eliminates various grant and financial assistance programs administered by DNR, including:
    1. A program that provides annual grants to nonprofit corporations for certain urban open space objectives.
    2. A program that provides grants to nonprofit corporations that conduct activities related to the ice age trail.
    3. Funding for interpretive programming at the Northern Great Lakes Center.
    4. Two programs that provide grants to nonprofit corporations to conduct various conservation activities.
    5. Funding for the operational costs of the Florence Wild Rivers Interpretive Center.
    6. A program to award contracts to nonprofit corporations to assist nonprofit river management organizations.
    7. A program to award contracts to nonprofit corporations for lake classification and management projects.
    8. Funding to repair the Fox River navigational system.
    9. A program to award grants to counties to fund a percentage of the salary of a professional forester.
    10. Funding for a forestry and fire prevention study.
    11. A program to provide grants certification for master logger certification or logger safety training.
  • Transfers policymaking authority from the DATCP board to the secretary of agriculture, trade and consumer protection and changes the board to a council, which is an advisory body, rather than a policymaking body as under current law.
  • Increases the general obligation bonding authority for the Soil and Water Resource Management program by $7,000,000.
  • Transfers $1,000,000 from the agricultural chemical cleanup fund to the environmental fund each fiscal year of the 2015−17 biennium for grants to groups of farmers who assist other farmers within a watershed to conduct activities to reduce nonpoint source pollution.
  • Eliminates funding to and administration of the PECFA program by July 1, 2017.
  • Modifies the Environmental Improvement Program by permitting privately owned or nonprofit public water systems to be eligible for loans, expanding eligibility for the loan program, and providing the Departments of Administration and Natural Resources additional flexibility in administering the loans, potentially reducing debt service over the biennium.
  • The Governor’s budget recommends allowing safe drinking wter loans to be made to privately owned nonprofit public water systems. In addition, the budget recommends amending eligibility for unsewered municipal projects to all require:
  • At least two-thirds of the residences be 20 years
  • Replacing the requirement that existing residences must have been constructed before 1972.
  • Repeals current law provisions that allow DNR to issue a general permit applicable to a designated area of the state authorizing discharges from specified categories or classes of point sources located within that area instead of issuing a separate permit to an individual point source.

For more information, or questions about these or other items included in the Budget, contact your Stafford Rosenbaum attorney or member of the Stafford Rosenbaum goverment relations team.

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