Last week the legislature included a provision in the omnibus transportation motion that largely exempts aggregate quarries from local regulation. The primary reason for including it in the transportation omnibus is the cost that local regulations add to road projects.
That is, local regulations add cost to aggregate quarry operations, and those quarries in turn pass that cost along to local governments when they purchase aggregate for road projects. These are significant concerns that ought to be addressed, but what was put in the budget is not the answer.
First of all, we are glad that towns have finally admitted that burdensome local regulations drive up the cost of doing business in our state. However, we need to fix this issue for every industry, not just the industry that towns do business with. We could all be so lucky as to provide a product that towns want so they would agree to eliminate their burdensome local regulations in order to reduce costs.
There’s more, though. These changes upset a regulatory balance that has been in place in Wisconsin for decades, which will create confusion and uncertainty for all other Wisconsin industries. Local governments in Wisconsin are already prohibited from establishing their own air and water quality standards. The state of Wisconsin establishes statewide environmental standards for uniformity purposes.
Time and time again the Supreme Court has struck down local ordinances that offer varied and inconsistent requirements from state law. They did as recently as a few years ago when a community in Wisconsin attempted to establish their own high capacity well regulations.
Wisconsin has comprehensive statewide standards for a reason – it would be a regulatory disaster to have differing air and water quality standards in every town across Wisconsin. When, as with this proposal, the legislature recognizes the power of local governments to regulate in an area, and then pre-empts regulations in that area for only one specific industry, everyone else who is not lucky enough to benefit from the legislative protection pays the price.
Lastly, this proposal also grandfathers in existing regulations, many of which impact other industries. The proposal exempts quarries from local regulations while at the same time forcing every other industry to be stuck with them. That’s nonsensical, and it’s terrible public policy.
Aggregate quarries are important business in Wisconsin. They employ a large number of our friends and neighbors. They provide vital products that our state needs every day. They should not be subjected to burdensome local regulations any more than any other industry should.
The legislature should not be picking winners and losers when it comes to who can be subjected to costly local regulations. This provision should be removed from the state budget.