Flashback 2014: What’s up with state’s air, land and water?

Anne Sayers, Special to WiG

If you breathe air or drink water, listen up. The Legislature has the ability to impact your air, land and water — and all indications are that the session beginning Jan. 5 will not be a positive one for our natural resources. A review of the last session combined with the recent election results shed a little light on what we’re up against. 

Election results

We are disappointed by many of the outcomes of the recent election, especially at the top of the ticket, where we ran our biggest electoral campaign to date to help elect Mary Burke.  

However, we’re happy to let you know 74 percent of the candidates endorsed by Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters won. And of the winners, we are especially excited about a bipartisan set of legislators entering the state Assembly who will bring new commitment to our work to raise natural resource issues above the political fray. 

Last Session

All in all, the incoming Legislature looks very much like the last. Still, during the last session we defeated 75 percent of the anti-conservation attacks, including attacks on groundwater supply and local control. We even successfully passed 50 percent of the pro-conservation bills proposed.

In every case, the key to success was the engagement of Wisconsin citizens statewide. By the thousands, they were willing to call their legislators, send an email, or even head to Madison for a hearing when their conservation values were at stake. Citizens acted quickly, decisively and with great dedication.

We’re going to need that kind of engagement again. There is absolutely no doubt that we have challenges ahead, but we’re encouraged by the fact that — together — we’ve brought home natural resource victories in this political environment before.

Like last session, we expect two issues to remain front and center: groundwater supply and frac sand mining.

Groundwater Supply

With all of the lakes, rivers, and streams in Wisconsin, it may be hard to believe that the aquifers below us are drying up. But it’s true. Years of unfettered water use are driving parts of the state to a crisis point. Something needs to be done. 

This session, we’ll advocate for legislation that will proactively protect groundwater supplies for future generations at the same time we are guarding against attacks on our groundwater, like we saw (but defeated) last session.

Frac Sand Mining

The hills of western Wisconsin contain the sand necessary to do hydraulic fracking for natural gas, which means our rural communities have become the Grand Central Station of open-pit frac sand mining. There is very little oversight of this new industry, allowing it to wreak havoc on our air and water, which wreaks havoc on public health.  

With a gubernatorial administration that has not made enforcement of our air and water laws a priority, bad actors are often getting off scot-free. We will continue to call on the state to prioritize the monitoring of frac sand mines so we know when an environmental crime is committed and can enforce the law when violations are noted. And, of course, we will continue to advocate for better protections to keep frac sand mines from polluting in the first place. 

Looking Ahead

With other potential threats coming in the form of more mining, unsafe drinking water, and renewable energy stagnation, we are recommitted and reenergized to do the immense amount of work that needs to be done. In fact, we’re already back at it — doing what we know works. We’re out there listening, organizing, and building networks. We’re finding opportunities. And in some cases, we’re creating new ones.

We know Wisconsin voters care deeply about natural resources (and the polling proves it), which is why we are in this for the long haul. Thank you for staying informed and standing with us!

To learn more about Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and the very latest on conservation issues, please visit

Anne Sayers is program director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to electing conservation leaders, holding decision-makers accountable, and encouraging lawmakers to champion conservation policies that effectively protect Wisconsin’s natural resources and public health.