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Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act

Environmental Impact Analysis

Signed into law in 1972, the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act (WEPA) set forth the state’s environmental policy and created section 1.11, Wis. Stats. Under WEPA, all state agencies must analyze, consider and disclose the anticipated environmental impacts of certain proposed actions, along with reasonable alternatives to those actions. This requirement does not apply to local governments or private entities.

WEPA Compliance Procedures

Different state agencies have different procedures for complying with WEPA. The DNR’s procedures are established in Ch. NR 150, Wis. Adm. Code. In most cases, WEPA compliance is achieved through the DNR's programmatic procedures for those regulatory and resource management actions listed under NR 150.20(2)(a). These actions are classified as “integrated analysis actions,” and typically do not require an environmental impact statement (EIS).

“Integrated analysis action” means a department action for which department programmatic procedures provide for public disclosure and include an environmental analysis that provides sufficient information to establish that an environmental impact statement is not required. [NR 150.03(12m)]

Some DNR actions, like the permitting of metallic mines and the licensing of certain new hazardous waste facilities, will automatically require the preparation of an EIS, following the procedures set forth in NR 150.30. The purpose of an EIS is to inform decision-makers and the public about the anticipated environmental and socioeconomic effects of a proposed action or project and alternatives to the proposal.

The DNR may also determine that an EIS is required for a proposed project involving one or more DNR actions, as described in NR 150.20(4)(b). To learn about recent and ongoing EIS analyses, including any EIS documents that are open for public comment, see Current EIA Projects and Topics.

In addition, the DNR conducts “strategic analyses” of natural resource issues and policies following the procedures set forth in NR 150.10. The purpose of a strategic analysis is to inform decision-makers and the public about alternative courses of action related to a natural resource issue or policy, and the anticipated environmental and socioeconomic effects of those alternatives. To learn about recent and ongoing strategic analyses, including any that are open for public comment, see Current EIA Projects and Topics.

The DNR routinely reviews and comments on environmental analysis documents prepared by other state and federal agencies. The DNR also jointly prepares environmental analysis documents with other agencies as established under NR 150.40.

Environmental Policy

Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), WEPA includes a declaration of environmental policy:

The legislature...declares that it is the continuing policy of this state, in cooperation with other governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures…to create and maintain conditions under which man[kind] and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations. [WEPA Section 1, Part (2)]

WEPA differs from environmental protection statutes, like the federal Clean Water Act, in that it does not mandate particular outcomes or set measurable targets. WEPA Section 1, Part (3) articulates four broad goals:

  1. Fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations;
  1. Assure safe, healthful, productive and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings;
  1. Attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment while attempting to minimize degradation, risk to health or safety or other undesirable and unintended consequences; and
  1. Enhance the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable recycling of depletable resources