By Tom Still
Madison Correspondent

MADISON – By any measurable standard, Wisconsin’s Quad/Graphics is a national leader when it comes to environmentally friendly printing. Over time, the company’s innovations have compelled other major printers to adopt the same technologies and best practices or risk losing business to clients who now demand “clean” printing.

So why is Quad/Graphics being forced to pay $75,000 for air pollution violations that really weren’t violations, other than in the most technical sense of the word?

The answer to that question is why so many policymakers, ranging from Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to the Republican leadership in the Legislature, are clamoring for regulatory reform in Wisconsin.  

The state Department of Justice announced last week it has settled an environmental enforcement lawsuit against Quad/Graphics, and the company must pay $75,000 for air pollution violations. The complaint alleged that Quad/Graphics used more than the allowable level of regulated materials on some presses at its plants in Sussex and West Allis. It was not claimed that Quad/Graphics exceeded its total monthly or annual emissions limit for volatile organic compounds, which can cause ground-level ozone, only that the limit for some presses was exceeded.

Most likely, Quad/Graphics never came within shouting distance of breaking its overall air pollution limits. In fact, the company’s former environmental manager believes “each cited printing line would emit only a fraction – 15 to 20 percent – of its allowable VOC emissions.”

Because of how the federal Environmental Protection Agency rules are written and how the state Department of Natural Resources chooses to enforce them, Quad/Graphics was fined. A blot now appears on an otherwise sparkling record and Wisconsin jobs have been put at risk, all because regulators found it necessary to “punish” a company that would be praised in other states for its environmental awareness.

“Once again, instead of focusing on environmental results, administrative flexibility and stewardship to meet our environmental goals, we continue to rely on the tired, prescriptive, top-down solutions of the first generation of environmental policy,” said John Imes, executive director of the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative and the former environmental manager for Quad/Graphics. “There is a better way. Through collaboration and a focus on environmental results, we can end the ‘green wars’ and achieve our aspirations for an improved environment and a healthy business climate in Wisconsin.”

Finding that “better way” should be a goal of Doyle and the Legislature as the fall legislative session moves to a close. At last week’s meeting of the Governor’s Economic Growth Council, Doyle left no doubt that he wants change.

Doyle repeated his call for “the most aggressive regulatory reform policy in the Midwest,” and individual Cabinet secretaries described how their agencies are using administrative rules to force change. But the most significant changes will likely require legislative approval – and the adoption of new thinking about effective regulation.

Doyle, a former criminal prosecutor who later served as attorney general, drew an analogy to “community policing,” which analysts have credited with a decline in U.S. crime rates since the 1990s. Community policing pulled cops out of distant precincts and squad cars and put them into the neighborhoods, where they were closer to the problem and better able to solve it.

“I believe that same philosophy can be applied in the regulatory arena, as well,” Doyle told his business advisors council. “We need to figuratively get out of those squad cars. We can have a better regulatory process that focuses on high quality and getting things done in a timely manner, without lowering standards.”

The Legislature and the governor should work toward a goal of restoring common-sense regulation. It makes no sense that a company such as Quad/Graphics, which is an environmental leader by national standards, would be fined because the law loses sight of the overall goal. The Legislature must keep regulatory reform at the top of its list.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.