Lawmakers review open burning legislation
By: Shawn Johnson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
The Department of Natural Resources would be able to fine people for burning garbage or tires under a measure being revived at the state capitol.
The DNR gets more citizen complaints about the open burning of things like wet garbage, insulation, asphalt shingles, treated lumber or tires than it does about any other source of air pollution. Burned trash is the number one source of carcinogens known as dioxins in Wisconsin’s air. It’s also the number one cause of wildfires.
And yet as Stevens Point Democratic Representative Louis Molepske told a state Assembly panel, the open burning of these substances in your back yard or anywhere else is already illegal.
“It’s been illegal for 31 years,” said Molepske. “And people expect you to take that waste to the landfill like most of your neighbors would. Unfortunately the enforcement mechanism for the law is a bit convoluted.”
That enforcement mechanism works like this: when the DNR finds someone illegally burning trash out in the open, they can only pass on the information to the Department of Justice. In most cases this does not result in a fine. A plan Molepske is sponsoring would let the DNR write tickets for open burning. A first offense would carry only a warning; a second offense would carry a $5 fine; and someone caught burning a third time could be fined up to $500.
The plan would not change the list of what people can burn legally in Wisconsin, so burning dried leaves or untreated wood would still be okay. Similar bills have died in the legislature the past two sessions, but this one likely has a better chance with Democrats running both the Senate and the Assembly.