Opinion Pieces

Sheboygan Press: Sheboygan County unfairly targeted by EPA

I think we can all agree that it’s important we have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and enjoy, but it’s also important that federal agencies display common sense when creating regulations for our air and water.

For decades, Sheboygan County has been locked in a battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The county has been unfairly, and incorrectly, held accountable for pollutants coming from outside Wisconsin.

A study clearly shows the emissions are coming from elsewhere, yet the EPA is unwilling to take another look at Sheboygan County’s nonattainment designation – a measure of air quality based on acceptable ozone levels.

Sheboygan County’s nonattainment designation means that our companies and manufacturers in the area will have to fulfill additional permitting requirements, which include having more federal involvement by the EPA in business decisions. As Sheboygan County competes for jobs with other states and countries, we cannot and should not force local businesses to spend millions unnecessarily.

In Wisconsin’s Sixth District, we have the most manufacturing jobs of any congressional district in the country. It’s our lifeblood, and many of our communities would cease to exist without these jobs.

Many of these manufacturers are located in Sheboygan County (manufacturing accounts for 37 percent of jobs in the county), but the EPA’s nonattainment designation could force them to relocate, and it certainly discourages other manufacturers from moving to the area. It’s simply not right that our manufacturers are acting responsibly, but they – and the community as a whole – are still being punished for emissions coming from areas like Chicago and Indiana.

Additionally, this nonattainment designation hits all residents of Sheboygan County, even those who don’t work in manufacturing, through car emissions tests that cost both time and money, especially to middle class families.

This nonattainment designation is so ridiculous that it’s brought together a wide variety of groups like the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, local business owners and federal officials. In fact, Sen. Ron Johnson and I recently signed a letter asking the EPA administrator to make sure that Sheboygan County is no longer unfairly classified with an ozone nonattainment designation.

But additional congressional action is required to prevent this from happening in the future.

Sen. Johnson and I are also sending a letter to the EPA requesting that 1) states, not Washington bureaucrats, determine the proper locations for ozone monitoring sensors; 2) a new distinction inside the current nonattainment status designation is created for counties to avoid penalties if they can scientifically prove that high readings are not being caused by industries in their area; 3) no air monitor placed within two miles of a coastline is designated as a county’s only air quality measurement device (ozone pollutants are easily blown over random coastlines after traveling across water); and 4) the EPA averages the readings of two air monitors when one is placed on a coastline and another is placed inland.

These steps will help to ensure that lakeshore counties, like Sheboygan County and others in the Great Lakes-region, are not unfairly targeted by the EPA for misleading ozone level readings.

We’re lucky enough to have a beautiful coastline along Lake Michigan, but the EPA’s misguided attempts to preserve it are hurting, not helping, the area. With a new administration in the White House, it’s time to act. I strongly urge EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to work on resolving this injustice for the good of Sheboygan County and the state of Wisconsin.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman is serving his second term representing Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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