Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
February 2006
Duo Helps Wisconsin Businesses Breathe Easier

Renee Lesjak Bashel and Tom Coogan generally refer to themselves as "Small Business Environmental Assistance Providers." While their official title reads "clean air specialist", as with everything else in the air quality program they coordinate in the Bureau of Entrepreneurship, the pair tries to break it all down into "plain English."

Commerce's Clean Air Specialists Renee Bashel
Renee Bashel

Tom Coogan
Tom Coogan

"If we get too technical," notes Coogan, who says that he is "still learning" since joining Commerce five years ago after two years at the UW-Extension Small Business Development Center, "people get confused."

Indeed. While Renee, (a chemical engineer who spent eight years working in the Bureau of Air Management at the DNR before transferring to Commerce six years ago) understands all of the techno-speak, she reiterates the importance of turning state and federal regulations into easy to understand sound bites for Wisconsin's small business owners.

The program, which is non-regulatory, was assigned to Commerce by the legislature in the early 1990's. Originally, program staffs were located at both the departments of Natural Resources and Development (Commerce). After a few years, DNR lost their position and Commerce gained one. Renee notes that "The program is effective in the ‘business-friendly' atmosphere at Commerce." Its focus is to provide guidance to small businesses in helping them comply with air quality, wastewater and hazardous waste issues. While compliance may be one of those things that most people don't think about, Renee says it is "a major concern for small businesses that can spend as much as $3,500 to $7,000 a year per employee to address."

Dry cleaners, auto body shops, printers, manufacturing plants, salvage yards; shops that paint wood or metal, etc. all must deal with clean air regulations. Renee and Tom help them navigate the myriad rules. They offer technical assistance in a variety of ways: on the website, in a quarterly newsletter, fact sheets, site visits, conferences, and one-on-one when a small business calls requesting assistance.

One of their colleagues, Carol Dunn, is the department's Small Business Ombudsman who acts as a liaison between business owners and various regulatory agencies. She works with Renee and Tom when any of the issues are related to environmental regulations.

There is also a Small Business Environmental Council made up of small business owners or representatives from across the state who work with Renee and Tom to review the materials they create, comment on DNR rules as they pertain to the impact/burden they might have on small business and, as Tom says, the group "provides a true small business voice" on clean air issues.

The object of the program is to be protective of public health. Says Renee, "Everything pollutes – it's a matter of how much pollution is generated and whether or not it is regulated at that level." However, by educating small business owners on rules and regulations they must abide by, and providing guidance on how to deal with them, they hope that their efforts will result in less frustrated small business owners, and cleaner air for all.

Renee and Tom note that they work with their counterparts in other agencies – and other states - to help everyone get a handle on the best ways to educate small business owners on their responsibilities to the air in our environment. For example, says Tom, "I got a call from a guy who was spray painting some stuff and wanted to know about restrictions." One of the first things Tom asked was where the man was calling from. The answer would depend on his geographical location. There are more stringent requirements, for example, on the east coast of the state along Lake Michigan.

Navigating all of the state and federal rules regarding air quality is a daunting task. Renee and Tom note that they are constantly working with the DNR and the USEPA to help streamline things whenever possible. They note that their bureau is currently involved with a number of innovative programs such as working with printers on development of a workbook to summarize all environmental regulations that affect their operations, and an upcoming program to deal with diesel idling reduction.

While the outcome of what they do is not always immediately known, they both agree that the greatest satisfaction comes from simply helping small business owners who want to do the right thing. Concludes Renee, "Whether they make big changes (in their operations) or not, at least we help relieve the burden."

To learn more about the Small Business Clean Air Assistance Program, contact Renee at 608/267-6153 or Renee.Bashel@wisconsin.gov or Tom at 608/267-9214 or Thomas.Coogan@wisconsin.gov.

-- Barbro McGinn, Communications Specialist

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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