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Petition for Corrective Action

Citizen Petition for Corrective Action or Withdrawal of NPDES Program Delegation from the State of Wisconsin

Read more about the Wisconsin citizens who signed the petition

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In early February 2018, EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp responded to a letter from MEA and Petitioners and confirmed that she would recuse herself from review of the Petition for Corrective Action in Wisconsin because of her previous position as WDNR Secretary.

Since filing of the PCA in October 2015, Midwest Environmental Advocates, on behalf of 16 citizen Petitioners, continues to discuss with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 staff how the Petition process will work.

Both the DNR and the Wisconsin Legislature must be willing to address the EPA’s findings as it investigates claims in the PCA if this action is going to make a real difference.  When the federal administration changed in 2017, the result was a weakening of the federal backstop that might have forced the DNR to promptly improve its water pollution permitting program.  Tools are still available to move the PCA forward, but citizen action and diligence have become even more crucial.

EPA continues to investigate certain claims set forth in the Petition and provide regular, publicly-available updates regarding which claims are resolved and, for unresolved issues, what corrective action(s) the state must take.  The most recent update on EPA’s investigation occurred in December 2017, when Agency staff deemed as fully resolved more than half of the “75 issues” or water pollution program deficiencies identified by EPA in 2011.  The remainder of the issues are in various stages of resolution.  EPA has not made preliminary findings with respect to issues set forth in the PCA that were not identified by the EPA back in 2011.

In fall of 2016, EPA conducted a review of certain water pollution permits at Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to continue investigating the claims outlined in the Petition.  EPA staff also met briefly with some of the citizen Petitioners to provide an in-person progress report and hear why Petitioners signed onto the PCA.  It is clear from these meetings that MEA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are regularly discussing the claims outlined in the Petition and how the EPA will decide whether certain water pollution permitting deficiencies are ‘resolved.’

This means that over two years have passed since filing of the PCA, and Petitioners still have no answer with respect to certain important deficiencies in the DNR’s water pollution permitting program.  EPA and DNR program staff have the will to improve the program, but top-down pressure is hampering comprehensive progress.

Also since the filing of the PCA, Petitioners have received meaningful, consistent support from business groups, lake and river associations, faith communities, and others.  It’s clear that a diversity of groups and individuals are eager to talk about the gap between our universal need for safe lakes, rivers, and drinking water, and the way in which our state natural resources agency is currently protecting Wisconsin’s waters.

Learn more about how you can join the community of PCA supporters.


Citizen Petition for Corrective Action or Withdrawal of NPDES Program Delegation from the State of Wisconsin

What is a Petition for Corrective Action?

Facilities in Wisconsin that want to discharge pollutant to our waters generally seek a permit from the DNR, not from the EPA. This division of responsibility is allowed by federal law, and the EPA keeps oversight powers to make sure that states like Wisconsin are properly running their water permitting programs. When a state operates its program in violation of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has authority to step in and start issuing permits for that state. To begin the process of asking the EPA to take this step, a Petition for Corrective Action is necessary. Petitions can come from EPA, and often come from environmental groups. Here, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a Petition on behalf of 16 Wisconsin residents and water champions who know that attention to Wisconsin’s water quality is long overdue.

What’s included in the scope of the Petition?

The Petition is lengthy, but there are four key points to keep in mind. First, action of Wisconsin elected officials and the courts has left the DNR without all of the authority it needs to issue water pollution permits in a way that fully satisfies Clean Water Act requirements. Second, even with the authority that the DNR does have, it chooses not to operate its water permitting program in a way that complies with federal laws and regulations. Third, the DNR’s program doesn’t include limits in water pollution permits that are protective enough of water quality. Last but not least, the Petition discusses Petitioners’ right to receive a response from the EPA in a reasonable timeframe.   

Why and how should EPA respond to the Petition?

Federal law requires at minimum that the EPA respond to this Petition—the right to submit the Petition is given by federal law and the EPA cannot ignore Petitioners’ requests. That being said, the EPA has some flexibility in the manner and timing of its response. Petitioners anticipate requesting that the EPA hold a public hearing to give Wisconsinites have chance to explain the real, wide-sweeping impacts of water pollution in Wisconsin. The key is that the EPA’s response must address all aspects of the broken water permitting program as Petitioners detail in their submittal. This website will provide updates at various times when it’s necessary to put some pressure on regulatory agencies to promptly resolve issues discussed in the Petition. To learn more about how to get involved, see the ‘What Can I Do’ section below!

What role do citizens play?

Citizens are the fuel and the reason for this Petition. Though other states have submitted similar Petitions to the EPA, this Petition is unique in that it is filed by individual Wisconsin residents rather than an organization or group of organization. 16 Wisconsin residents have given their time, expertise, and testimonials to show how the failure of the DNR to operate its water pollution permit according to the Clean Water Act has a real impact on real people. Water discharge permitting is complex, involving statutes, rules, and lengthy permits. It’s important to look past the paper and the jargon to understand that the response of regulatory agencies to this Petition will have a true and long-term impact on the ability of Wisconsinites to use and enjoy our State’s water resources.

Submitting the Petition to the EPA

Petitioners sent the Petition to the EPA on October 20, 2015. On the same day, Petitioners appeared with key partners and Midwest Environmental staff and board members at press conferences in Green Bay, Madison, and Menomonie. Petitioners asked for a written response from the EPA within 30 days and asked that both the DNR and EPA work with Petitioners and interested public to promptly start meetings and other collaborative efforts to bring the DNR’s water pollution permitting program into compliance with the Clean Water Act. The EPA must require the DNR to quickly resolve all outstanding issues in the ’75 issues letter,’ otherwise the quality of Wisconsin’s waters will continue to decline as the DNR dedicates inadequate attention to fulfilling its public trust responsibilities to protect our State’s water resources.


Full Petition

Petition Outline

Petition Executive Summary

NPDES Petition for Program Withdrawal in Wisconsin

Letter from former and retired DNR staff to EPA signed by Kimberlee Wright and George Meyer - Cover Letter

Letter from former and retired DNR staff to EPA urging prompt action on the petition

2011 Letter from EPA Administrator Hedman to DNR Secretary Stepp highlighting 75 deficiencies in Wisconsin's water pollution program