Supreme Court Accepts Clean Wisconsin v. DNR Appeal

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal in Clean Wisconsin v. DNR, which will decide whether 2011 Act 21 precludes DNR from considering cumulative environmental impacts in issuing high capacity well permits under Wis. Stat. § 281.34. The Court of Appeals District II had submitted in January a certification for the Supreme Court to take up the case.

DNR argues that Act 21, which clarified that agencies may not enforce requirements unless explicitly permitted by statute or properly promulgated rule, prevents the agency from considering environmental impacts not specifically noted in the statutes. DNR’s argument relies on a May 2016 formal opinion from former Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Clean Wisconsin argues that the 2011 Supreme Court decision Lake Beulah Management District v. DNR still holds. Lake Beulah broadly held that DNR has the authority to preserve waters of the state under the constitutional and statutory public trust doctrines. Since the Supreme Court decided Lake Beulah after the enactment of Act 21 but declined to address the Act’s bearing on the case, a decision in the Clean Wisconsin case would clarify DNR’s authority on high capacity well permits and the general scope of Act 21 in environmental cases.