THU AM News: Tauchen, ag partners developing legislative proposal; Natural Resources Board adopts PFAS rules

— Rep. Gary Tauchen is working with ag industry partners on what likely will be a years-long legislative effort to help farmers adapt to changing weather and markets.

The Assembly agriculture committee chair’s plan aims to create a state framework for carbon accounting and management, boosting biogas and more. 

The Bonduel Republican gave an overview of the plan yesterday as part of a luncheon at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. The initiative has been in the works for about a year. 

While legislation hasn’t been introduced yet, he said the state Legislative Council has created a draft partners can use as conversations with stakeholders continue. 

“We recognize that it wasn’t ready for primetime, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and it gives us something to work from,” he said. “I’m expecting in the next few weeks that we’re going to have a hearing on it, so we can get some input and some direction from people that are affected to see what needs to be changed in the bill and how we can improve it.” 

A series of working groups have been organized on topics including onsite and distributed energy, biogas and pipelines, carbon offset labeling and accounting, nutrient management and water. Jessica Niekrasz, president of Clean Fuel Partners and board chair for the Wisconsin Biomass Energy Coalition, is one of the leaders of the initiative. 

“There’s a lot of opportunity here and I’m excited,” she said yesterday. “I’m excited to address not only supporting the dairy industry with our efforts, but also water quality challenges that we’ve experienced in the state. We can do this.” 

A fact sheet provided by Tauchen’s office highlights a number of legislative priorities for 2022 and 2023. 

These include: creating a voluntary carbon accounting system for agricultural producers; directing state regulators to develop and require standardized agreements between power and fuel producers, regulated utilities and intrastate gas pipeline operators; directing the state to create a statewide biogas master plan; and directing DATCP to facilitate “natural climate solutions” for ag producers. 

DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski says elements of Tauchen’s plan align with goals of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. 

“There’s the carbon sequestration components, there’s the biodigester feasibility that we’re talking about — those were things that were teased out as part of the governor’s climate change task force,” he said. “Those are important concepts to be talking about.” 

Tauchen stressed the initiative represents a “huge project” and requires a methodical approach, “so that we bring people along without causing a lot of heartburn and upheaval.” He acknowledged significant changes need to be made related to state agencies and utilities. 

“I’m looking forward to working with the agencies to try to figure out how we can work together to make good things happen for the people in our state, developing a voluntary, market-driven program,” he said. 

Other panelists highlighted the financial and environmental opportunities for farmers in biodigesters, which use organic waste such as manure to produce fertilizer and biogas. Steve Dvorak is president of Chilton-based DVO, which has designed and installed a digester system that’s being used at more than 100 sites across 18 states. He explained biodigesters have existed for decades but noted improving technology has led to big advancements. 

“At the end of the day, I have a lot of customers that have been running digesters for 10, 15 years on their farm that are telling us their gas is now worth three, four times their milk product,” he said. “True story.” 

Romanski also highlighted the agency’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program, spotlighting some “notable, measurable improvements.” The effort is aimed at driving soil conservation and nutrient management, reducing soil erosion and improving water quality. 

Between 2019 and 2020, farmer groups in the program reported an 82 percent increase in conservation practices. They boosted cover crop acres by about 19 percent, resulting in more than 75,000 tons of soil and 41,000 pounds of phosphorus retained on farm fields. Phosphorus runoff from farms is associated with algae blooms and other detrimental environmental effects. 

At the same time, participating groups implementing no-tilling cover crop practices have resulted in an estimated 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide being captured from the environment. That’s equal to the reduction of about 8,700 passenger vehicles being driven for one year. 

“That’s something that we can point to and say, there’s something that agriculture is doing, that farmers are doing collectively, that is making a difference both in soil and water health, and in this particular case, carbon sequestration,” he said. 

Sara Maass-Pate, a farm business and production management instructor at FVTC, said farmers learning about practices like these typically start with questions about monetization. 

“Where’s my return? Where’s my bottom line, what’s in it for me?” she said, adding that she’s
“trying to educate them that it’s not a one-and-done … this is a long-term process.” 

— The Natural Resources Board has approved new regulations for PFAS that weren’t as stringent as what DNR recommended.

The board also deadlocked on a proposed rule to limit them in groundwater, nixing that effort.

The new rules would require the DNR to regularly monitor sites it suspects are contaminated. Systems that exceed standards would have to take measures to return to compliance, which could include drilling new wells or installing treatment systems.

The proposed standards, now headed to Gov. Tony Evers for consideration, would limit drinking water contamination levels to 70 parts per trillion. They also would limit surface water contamination levels to 8 ppt limit for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and 20 ppt for perfluorooctanoic acid in surface waters used as public drinking sources. The limit for other surface waters would be 95 ppt.

The proposed rule also is subject to review by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The agency had recommended 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. But the board rejected that standard and instead backed the Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline of 70 ppt. That passed 6-1 with Marcy West, an appointee of Evers, opposed. Evers’ other two appointees on the board said they supported the measure to ensure there was some standard in place.

Board member Terry Hilgenberg, an appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker, abstained from voting on the proposed groundwater contamination standards as the proposal failed on a 3-3 vote.

See more in the PM Update: 

Watch the meeting:

— The Department of Health Services announced it will be requesting a 30-day extension of Medicaid coverage for women after pregnancy. 

If approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the current 60 days of coverage after giving birth would be increased to 90 days, according to a release from DHS. 

DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake says the agency is committed to fighting racial and ethnic health disparities in the state. The release notes Black mothers in Wisconsin experience pregnancy-related death at five times the rate of white mothers, and Black infant mortality in the state is the highest in the country. A previous DHS report showed Black infants in the state die in their first year of life at more than three times the rate of white infants. 

Gov. Tony Evers says in the release that extending post-pregnancy Medicaid coverage as long as possible will help protect the health of both mothers and their children. 

“It is vital that after giving birth, mothers have the health care coverage they need so that they can get the care they need and, in turn, support our kids and keep them healthy, too,” he said. 

The agency will hold public hearings and consult with tribal groups before submitting the application to CMS later this year. 

See the release: 

— DHS also announced $3.4 million in grants for 43 organizations working to improve health equity in COVID-19 vaccinations in Wisconsin. 

Recipients are focused on lowering barriers to vaccine access among “disadvantaged or underserved” populations in the state. The DHS release notes minority communities in the state have seen higher rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death during the pandemic. 

“These awards will help trusted community-based organizations hire community outreach workers to increase vaccine confidence and accessibility for workers, families, and communities across our state,” Evers said in the release. 

See more on the funding: 

— Medical professionals who advise patients to try alternative treatments for things like COVID-19 couldn’t be disciplined for their guidance, under legislation OK’d by the Assembly.

Backers included the legislation in a “medical freedom” package introduced earlier this year, complaining the government has prevented medical professionals and pharmacists from recommending alternative treatments for COVID-19.

Under the bill, health providers who express their professional opinions on care couldn’t be retaliated against, including discipline by the state’s medical boards.

AB 1007 passed 60-36 along party lines without debate. It now goes to the Senate.

The Assembly also signed off on a tweak the Senate made to legislation that would allow people to submit proof they have natural immunity against COVID-19 in lieu of a vaccination or testing requirement.

The bill would allow chiropractors and pharmacists, along with other health professionals, to sign documentation of a positive COVID-19 or antibody test.

The original bill would have allowed workers or prospective employees to provide a notarized letter stating to the best of their knowledge they have recovered from COVID-19, but an amendment removed that provision.

The bill now goes to Evers.

— The Assembly also signed off on refocusing the state’s broadband expansion grant program to “unserved” areas rather than those that are “underserved.”

The Senate bill, which passed 60-36 along party lines with no debate, now goes to Evers.

Current law defines underserved as areas with less than two broadband service providers. The program awards grants to applicants to build broadband infrastructure in those areas.

The bill would change the purpose of the program to building infrastructure in unserved areas.

It also would change the definition of unserved. Now, it’s defined as an area that isn’t served by a provider with a fixed wireless service or wired service at actual speeds of at least 20 percent of the upload and download speeds for advanced telecommunications capability as designated by the Federal Communications Commission.

The bill would change the standard to download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of 20 megabits per second.

— The head of the Department of Financial Institutions says the outlook for credit unions in the state is positive, with year-end numbers showing stable growth in 2021. 

“The year-end financial indicators for Wisconsin’s state-chartered credit unions are sound,” DFI Secretary-designee Cheryll Olson-Collins said in a release. “Many credit unions continued to experience growth while five credit unions merged in 2021.” 

The DFI release shows total assets at Wisconsin credit unions equaled $55.9 billion at the end of last year. Assets increased by $6.4 billion for a growth rate of 12.94 percent. 

Meanwhile, net worth increased by 12.67 percent, or $552.7 million, to reach $5.7 billion at the end of 2021. And loans increased by about $3 billion last year to reach a total of $38.1 billion. 

See the release: 


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– UWRF to host upcoming show pig sale

– Report: Amount of Wisconsin land being farmed declines in 2021


– Senate OKs bill to set aside money for planning UW engineering building


– USDA posts February ag weather summary


– Birch chef Knall, Black Shoe’s Muench among semifinalists for coveted James Beard Awards


– Mayo Clinic plans new hospital for La Crosse

– Evers: Low COVID-19 vaccine rates in some communities slow pandemic recovery


– Alumni Ventures adds Chicago office that will house University of Wisconsin investment team


– From Miller Lite to Omicron: Molson Coors CEO saw more highs than lows in 2021

– Waukesha’s TechniBlend, a Fastest Growing Firm in 2020, is acquired


– River House’s second phase with 200 apartments near downtown could start in late summer


– DNR’s policy-setting board weakens standard for PFAS in drinking water

– Madison City Council again halts Raemisch Farm proposal


– Work proceeds on Camp Randall overhaul

– Fiserv Forum ready for its busiest week ever


– Clark Co. Farm Tech Committee unveils promotional video

– Wisconsin Assembly passes personal data consumer rights legislation

– Assembly Republicans green-light online personal data restrictions


– Spirit Airlines to add nonstop service from Milwaukee to Myrtle Beach


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