AG Opinion Validates Act 21 Limits on Agency Authority

On May 10, 2016, Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a formal opinion finding that 2011 WI Act 21 requires explicit delegation of authorities to agencies, making it clear that regulatory mandates may no longer arise from implied authority.

Whether enacting rules, imposing permit conditions, or exercising public trust authority, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other agencies must point to explicit statutory delegations or their actions are legally void and unenforceable.

Key excerpts from the 23-page opinion include:

  • “Act 21 makes clear that permit conditions and rulemaking may no longer be premised on implied agency authority.”[1
  • Given the lack of explicit authority in the statutes, “a monitoring well condition on a high capacity well permit is prohibited and unenforceable.”[2] Similarly, DNR lacks authority to require cumulative impact analysis as a well permit condition.
  • “[M]uch of the [Wisconsin Supreme] Court’s reasoning in Lake Beulah, including the breadth of the DNR’s public trust authority. . . , is no longer controlling.”[3]

The AG Opinion is significant, but also is consistent with prior positions taken by the AG’s Office, DNR, and by the court in the New Chester case[4]. One issue clarified by Schimel was that a key Act 21 provision, Wis. Stat. § 227.10 (2m), is not retroactive. Act 21’s effective date is June 8, 2011. Thus, any standard, requirement, or threshold, including permit terms, issued on or after June 8, 2011, must be tethered to explicit statutory or rule language. And draft rules submitted to the Legislative Council (before the public hearing) on or after that date must also arise from explicit statutory authority.

Hamilton Consulting represented several clients in advancing Act 21. Through the Great Lakes Legal Foundation, some of us were attorneys of record for business associations on the leading cases, including Lake Beulah[5], Rock-Koshkonong Lake Dist.[6], and New Chester.

For more on this issue, consider WMC’s June 22 Symposium: Act 21: The Demise of Implied Agency Authority.

[1] OAG-01-16 (May 10, 2016), p. 15, ¶29.

[2]Id. p. 22, ¶50.

[3] Id. P. 8, ¶16

[4] New Chester Dairy v. DNR, No. 14CV1055 (Wis. Cir. Ct. Outagamie Cty. Dec. 2, 2015).

[5] Lake Beulah Management District v. Department of Natural Resources, 2011 WI 54, 3355 Wis. 2d. 47 (2011).

[6] Rock-Koshkonong Lake Dist. V. DNR, 2013 WI 74, 350 Wis. 2d 45 (2013)