THU AM News: Corn growers, ethanol producers urging EPA to ‘follow the law’ on small refinery exemptions; Health officials brief state legislators on coronavirus

— Wisconsin corn growers and ethanol producers are looking to the EPA to “follow the law” on small refinery exemptions and make up for lost gallons. But the longer they wait for the EPA’s review and decision on the exemptions, the more the industry hurts.

“I would like to see the EPA and Administrator Wheeler just follow the law,” said Cal Dalton, a grain farmer in Endeavor. “I think it’s the culture of the EPA that doesn’t want to enforce the law; we’re fighting the culture of the EPA every step of the way.” 

Four of the nine ethanol plants in Wisconsin have slowed down and decreased corn grind, he said. There are no oil refineries in Wisconsin.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wisconsin is among the top 10 ethanol-producing states in the nation, and ethanol is one of the few energy resources that Wisconsin produces and sends to other states.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of The Biofuels Coalition to overturn and reconsider ethanol exemptions for refineries in Wyoming, Oklahoma and Utah. 

The Renewable Fuel Standard requires oil refiners and gasoline and diesel importers to mix biofuel volumes based on a percentage of its petroleum product sales or buy credits from those that do. In order to be exempt from volume obligations or purchasing credits, the refineries have to demonstrate disproportionate economic hardship. 

The three refineries petitioned to extend their exemptions, but according to the court, the EPA wrongfully granted the petitions. 

Twenty-three exemption petitions from 2019 are currently pending with the EPA while the agency consults with the White House on possibly changing the program. The EPA is expected to have a decision as early as next week.

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— Health officials reassured legislators that the national, state and local public health departments have a plan in case COVID-19 becomes a public health emergency in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has had just one confirmed case — the individual has fully recovered — and has six pending cases.

But they’re also calling for everyone to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus.

“Everyone has a role in preventing the spread of infectious disease — from washing their hands and not coming to work or to school when you are sick to supporting policies that will allow people to stay home,” said Jeanne Ayers, state health officer for the Department of Health Services.

While the risk to the general public is low in Wisconsin right now, according to DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, DHS and local health offices are prepared. They briefed legislators yesterday on risks and preparation related to the novel coronavirus.

Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at the Bureau of Communicable Disease, said additional Wisconsin cases are likely.

“It is possible and in fact likely that we will detect additional cases in the coming days or weeks,” Westergaard said. In that scenario, he said DHS will use a coordinated public health response that has been successful in the past.

The last time that the state of Wisconsin declared a public health emergency was in response to the H1N1 influenza epidemic in 2009, according to Westergaard.

So far, Florida and Washington are the only states with declared public health emergencies.

“[Wisconsin] has not concluded that there is a need to declare a public health emergency at this time,” Westergaard said. “It’s important to know that this rule exists and DHS and the governor’s office will assess this authority if needed to protect the health of our citizens.”

Since COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China in December of 2019, there have been 90,000 confirmed cases across the globe and more than 3,000 deaths, according to Westergaard. There have been over 130 confirmed cases in the United States and 11 deaths; 10 in Washington and one in California.

“Evidence suggests that COVID-19 cases will continue to increase in the U.S. and internationally,” he said. “If and when we identify new cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, the strategies that we use to contain epidemic and prevent widespread transmission of the infection will require true partnerships and close collaboration with the entire community.”

He added that effective communication between the DHS and congregate settings such as schools, churches, elderly housing and correctional facilities will be especially important.

Palm added that the Center for Disease Control provides guidelines around large gatherings too, such as conferences.

— Ayers noted that DHS has appointed a point person to serve as a liaison for long term care facilities and other group dining facilities. She said we the liaison may hold a webinar next week for long term care providers to answer questions and provide guidance.

“There is already an acute shortage of workers in these facilities,” she said. “One of the things I’m thinking a lot about is how we support facilities if their workers become ill; these are things we need to anticipate.”

Ayers recognized local communities and public health departments for being on the “front line” of protecting and caring for their community members.

“Local public health is really the first line of defense and response,” she said. “They conduct the bulk of the investigation and monitoring of the individual cases and they take many calls from the public.”

She added Wisconsin has two labs that can conduct tests for COVID-19: the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at UW-Madison and the Milwaukee Health Department Lab.

“Having this expanded laboratory capability in Wisconsin provides fast access to the high-quality testing that’s necessary and can help make a major difference in our ability to identify cases quickly and control spread,” said Ayers.

Palm encouraged keeping an eye on the DHS and CDC websites that are updated daily at 2 p.m. and 12 p.m. respectively.

“And as the situation evolves, our guidance will evolve,” Palm said.

Tracy DeSalvo, communicable diseases epidemiology section chief at DHS, said “respiratory etiquette” is the most effective way to prevent respiratory illness. This includes washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes, plus refraining from shaking hands or touching your eyes and face.

See more from DHS:

— Sen. Tom Tiffany is circulating legislation that would create a license for professional art therapists, who use artwork and self-expression to address mental health issues. 

These care providers often work in schools, medical clinics, social service agencies and other organizations. Art therapy has been shown to help patients with depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

A co-sponsorship memo from the Minocqua Republican shows the proposed legislation would create a licensure program for art therapists and define the practice of “professional art therapy” under state law. 

According to the memo, the bill would also eliminate a requirement that art therapists must hold a seperate license as a mental health practitioner. 

The deadline for co-sponsorship is 5 p.m. Friday. 

See the memo: 

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced his administration will hand out roughly $73 million for 152 local transportation projects across the state.

The one-time funding for the Multimodal Local Supplement grants was approved in last year’s state budget. Lawmakers originally allocated $90 million to the program, but the guv used his veto authority to cut the total down to $75 million.

In his veto message, Evers wrote that he objected to “the magnitude of general fund dollars

being utilized for transportation purposes in this budget.”

He also vetoed a provision requiring the funds be spent on local road projects, and yesterday’s announcement included $1 million for the Milwaukee County bus system, for example.

The transportation projects in yesterday’s announcement are in 84 towns, 34 cities and villages, and 34 counties. They were selected out of a pool of more than 1,600 applications, and the projects span 66 of the state’s 72 counties. 

See more at 


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– ‘Phenomenal piece of real estate’ — Why the Milwaukee Brewers rebranded Miller Park’s restaurant


– Kavazanjian wins ASA’s National Conservation Legacy Award


– Evers awards $75 million for 152 transportation projects


– UW-Milwaukee to offer employee buyouts for second time since 2015


– As Wisconsin lakes warm, walleye are feeling the heat

– Gypsy moth treatment plans to be discussed at meetings


– Hospitals, lawmakers, state health officials prepare for more COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin


– Newaukee seeks more investors for development, aims to buy historic south side building in April


– Wisconsin joins lawsuit challenging $3.8B funding for border wall


– Gov. Evers signs ag-related bills into law


– Milwaukee investors sell four suburban shopping centers for $15 million


– SSM Health clinic, Judge Doyle Square apartments, public market moving forward


– Bucks building template to host more events — including a possible NBA All-Star weekend


– Milwaukee Public Museum forges ahead on a new home, secures $1M grant


– Milwaukee city officials announce largest solar energy system


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