Columbia power plant (copy)

A coal-fired power plant near Portage.

Wisconsin is leading the nation in cuts to its pollution control and cleanup programs after slashing spending in those areas over the last 10 years, a new report shows. 

From fiscal years 2008 through 2018, operating dollars directed toward those programs at the Department of Natural Resources dropped by 35.6%, the highest level across the 48 lower states analyzed by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project

Specifically the nonprofit, founded by ex-U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, found that in fiscal year 2008, the DNR had a budget of almost $107 million in today's dollars for pollution-related programs. In fiscal year 2018, it was at $68.9 million.  

Still, the funding makes up less than one-fifth of the Wisconsin DNR's total budget, as the agency also performs a host of other activities that weren't included in the analysis. 

The report sought to compare states' spending on programs dedicated to reducing pollution in the environment as well as monitoring activities, scientific research, enforcement and administration and more. While the Wisconsin DNR also performs park management services and oversees wildlife activities, the findings aimed to "identify and distinguish spending for those functions from the department's overall budget," according to the report.

Of the total DNR budget, the Environmental Integrity Project considered 16% of it in fiscal year 2008 to be environmental programs, said Keene Kelderman, a project analyst. In fiscal year 2018, 11% of the agency's total budget was considered to be characterized as those programs. 

A Wisconsin DNR spokeswoman declined comment about the results. 

Project spokesman Tom Pelton stressed the state agency is "somewhat unlike many of the environmental agencies we studied" because of its other oversight functions. In Maryland and Texas, for example, there are departments that almost exclusively handle pollution control programs, he said. 

Rounding out the top five states with the biggest spending cuts were Texas, which saw a 35.2% decrease; Louisiana, which logged a 34.8% reduction; North Carolina with a 33.7% drop and Delaware with a 32.8% decrease. 

In all, the report found 30 states have cut spending to environmental programs between 2008 and 2018. Fiscal year 2008 figures were adjusted for inflation. 

The findings aimed to compare spending at the state level to what the EPA does at the federal level with controlling pollution, a spokesman for the project said. 

The study showed over the last decade, federal officials cut expenditures for EPA pollution control and research programs by nearly $1 billion and staffing by 2,699 positions, or 16 percent. 

"The bottom line is that states cannot pick up more slack from a diminished EPA if the state agencies are also crippled by cuts to their funding and staff," the report argued. 

While the report also sought to compare staffing cuts for pollution control positions at the state level across environmental agencies, the document found there was no data available for staffing levels at the Wisconsin DNR in fiscal years 2008 and 2018. 

Leading the nation in staffing cuts was Illinois, which saw 389 positions lost over the decade, a decrease of 38%, followed by North Carolina at -35% and Arizona at -32%. 

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