Tag Archives: clean

Wisconsin Assembly votes to lift barrier to new nukes

Editor’s note: The Senate is due to take up the bill on Feb. 16.

“No nukes now. No nukes probably forever,” says environmental activist Kevin Moore. 

Moore, in the late 1980s, went to jail as a protester seeking to block the licensing of nuclear power plants.

He’s remained active since. And, like many no-nuke demonstrators who committed to the cause in the late 1970s and 1980s, he’s baffled by the current campaign to build new plants.

“Did I miss something?” the 72-year-old activist asked. “Did they figure out what to do with the waste?”

The answer is no.

Yet, the Wisconsin Assembly has passed AB 384, which would remove a barrier to building new nuclear plants enacted in 1983, four years after a meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania and three years before the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Current state law prohibits new plants until the construction of a federal storage facility for nuclear waste.

A Senate committee held a hearing on its version of the pro-nuclear bill, SB288, on Jan. 5, but had not voted on the measure when WiG went to press.

Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, in a memo introducing the bill, described nuclear power as affordable, clean, safe and necessary. 

Proponents also argue Wisconsin needs nuclear options to comply with the Obama administration’s clean power plan requiring energy producers to reduce carbon emissions. 

But opponents say that’s a false argument.

“Nuclear energy is a distraction from realistic, cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions in Wisconsin: energy efficiency and renewable energy,” the Clean Wisconsin environmental group said in a statement on AB 384. “Nuclear is exorbitantly expensive and new plants take decades to get up and running.”

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters refers to AB 384 as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law” and has urged members to lobby their legislators.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter also opposes the measure.

Meanwhile, the national Sierra Club has responded to a renewed nuclear energy push with a “nuclear free future” campaign.

“The Sierra Club remains unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy,” read a statement from the leading environmental group.

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” the statement continued, referring to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:

• The issue of what to do with the long-lived waste created by the fissioning of uranium remains unresolved.

• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and many other areas in the world.

• Older nuclear plants sit in areas more densely populated than when they were built and almost all leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.

• Newer nuclear plants remain expensive and need enormous amounts of water.

• Despite what energy industry leaders claim, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

A letter that Sierra’s John Muir chapter sent to Wisconsin lawmakers on behalf of a Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition warned passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, Katie Nekola of Clean Wisconsin, Amy Schulz of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Peter Skopec of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group and Al Gedicks of Wisconsin Resources Protection Council signed the letter, along with Chuck Baynton and Judy Miner.

The coalition said passage of the bill could “send a strong message to the Department of Energy that Wisconsin is open to hosting a nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 DOE Study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”

Wisconsin’s energy mix

Wisconsin has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers. 

About 15.5 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is nuclear-generated, 62.3 percent is coal, 13.2 percent natural gas, 3.4 percent hydroelectric and 5.5 percent renewable.

— Lisa Neff

A tough year in Wisconsin for transparency

In 2015, Wisconsin advocates for open government faced a disquieting truth: If we want to preserve our state’s tradition of transparency and accountability, we must fight for it, against powerful players who will be fighting back.

The most egregious attack came on the cusp of the July 4 holiday weekend, when the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee inserted provisions into the state budget to gut the state’s open records law. A tremendous backlash from across the political spectrum forced lawmakers to back down.

Just three weeks later, the attack’s main architect, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, ordered the drafting of a bill to exempt the Legislature from the law, allowing it to achieve all the secrecy it desires. That intent is apparently still alive.

And while some secrecy provisions were pulled from the budget, one sailed through, creating different rules for the University of Wisconsin System than for all other state agencies regarding the naming of job finalists. Henceforth, the UW can pick athletic coaches and fill key academic positions without revealing which applicants were passed up.

Another blow came this fall, when Vos added a bill amendment late in the process to end the longstanding requirement that significant donors to political campaigns reveal where they work. The Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker, brushing off concerns that this will make it harder to track concerted special interest spending and even illegal activity, passed the bill into law.

Moreover, the Walker administration is embracing dubious interpretations of legal language to shield and even destroy records of public interest. It claims a “deliberative process” exemption that appears nowhere in state law to deny access to records of bill-drafting communications. A lawsuit over this practice is now playing out.

More recently, the administration has begun asserting that a new definition of “transitory records” approved by the state Public Records Board in August lets it destroy certain documents. This has happened at least twice, over records showing who has visited the governor’s executive residence and text messages between state officials and a private company that seems to have absconded with a state handout.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council has asked the Dane County district attorney to prosecute the Public Records Board for violating the Open Meetings Law in changing its definition of transitory record without flagging this on its meeting agenda. The board chair has since vowed to revisit the matter.

But Walker administration officials have refused to explain their use of this definition, which does not mention text messages or visitors logs. Elisabeth Winterhack, an attorney for the Department of Administration, and DOA spokesman Cullen Werwie have not responded to repeated requests for answers to simple questions, including whether the Walker administration is continuing to destroy records showing who visits the executive residence.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has reported that two former high-ranking Walker administration officials say they were warned not to use official email accounts for important business, apparently to avoid creating a paper trail. The administration denies it.

We are seeing, in words and action, the beginning of a culture of contempt for the public’s right to know, embedded deeply within state government. That should be of grave concern to every resident of the Wisconsin as we prepare for future battles.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a nonprofit group dedicated to open government. Bill Lueders is the council’s president.


FAILURE AT THE FAUCET | Safe, clean drinking water eludes many Wisconsinites

In this place, hundreds of thousands of people face the specter of drinking water from wells that is unsafe, tainted by one or more contaminants such as arsenic or nitrate.

In this place, for some, even brushing their teeth or cooking a meal can give pause because of the risk of lead from aging water pipes. The dangers to children, often more susceptible to pollutants than adults, and even pets and livestock, cause nagging fear.

Surely, this place — on a planet where the United Nations estimates 783 million people lack access to safe drinking water — lies in a distant nation.

But this polluted water is right here. In many parts of Wisconsin. In a state whose very name evokes the image of lakes and rivers and clean, cool, abundant water.

Lynda Cochart’s water from her private well was so poisoned by salmonella, nitrate, E. coli and manure-borne viruses that one researcher compared the results from her Kewaunee County farm to contamination in a Third World country. She suspects the problem is related to the county’s proliferation of large livestock operations, although testing did not pinpoint the source.

“Realize that we can’t drink, brush our teeth, wash dishes, wash food; we can’t use our water,” Cochart wrote in a letter last year to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking intervention in the county’s drinking water problems.

“Our water is on our mind all the time. If drinking it doesn’t kill us, the stress of having it on our mind and worrying about it all the time will.”

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents are at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found.

The problem persists, and in some areas is worsening, because of flawed agricultural practices, development patterns that damage water quality, geologic deposits of harmful chemicals, porous karst and sand landscapes, lack of regulation of the private wells serving an estimated 1.7 million people, and breakdowns in state and federal systems intended to safeguard water quality.

Studies show an increasing number of residents using private wells around the state are drinking unsafe levels of nitrate — most of it from fertilizer, manure or septic systems — which can be fatal to infants and has been linked to birth defects.

Tens of thousands of people living in homes in Milwaukee, Wausau and other cities with aging water pipes and fixtures may be exposed to lead, which can cause brain damage in children. Homes built before 1950 are likely to have lead pipes, according to the DNR. Those built before 1984 also could have lead in their fixtures or lead solder on pipes, the agency said.

The Center found that in many cases, residents are on their own when it comes to safeguarding their drinking water. Private well owners are not required to test their water, and only 16 percent do so annually, although 47 percent of private wells are estimated to be contaminated by one or more pollutants at levels above health standards. One-third of respondents to a 2008-09 state health survey said they had never tested their wells.

Even consumers of some municipal water should be wary. In 2009, after researchers found viruses in public water supplies, the state began requiring disinfection. In 2011, the Legislature rescinded the rule, with its sponsor, Rep. Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, calling it “an unnecessary and financial bureaucratic burden.”

In 2012, researchers definitively linked the presence of the viruses in 14 Wisconsin municipal water systems to acute gastrointestinal illness. More than 73,000 people use water provided by 60 municipal water systems that do not disinfect, according to DNR figures.

Last month, Doug and Sherryl Jones, of Spring Green, and Dave Marshall, a former Department of Natural Resources researcher from Barneveld who studied aquatic organisms, were among 16 Wisconsin residents who petitioned the EPA to revoke Wisconsin’s authority to issue pollution discharge permits under the Clean Water Act if the DNR does not correct deficiencies.

The discharge permits are a key mechanism by which Wisconsin limits pollutants, including manure from large farms, that reach the sources of Wisconsin’s drinking water. Both the Joneses and Marshall cited unsafe levels of nitrates in drinking water wells in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley.

Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Madison law firm representing the residents, said Wisconsin lacks an adequate regulatory program to protect water, including what flows from residents’ taps.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick countered that the DNR “takes its responsibility to protect Wisconsin’s waters seriously and does enforce the Clean Water Act. We are working within the confines of current state and federal laws and rules to do just that.” He declined to make any DNR officials available to discuss the Center’s findings.

Environmentalists are not the only critics of Wisconsin’s approach to safeguarding water.

Last year, an administrative law judge accused the DNR of “massive regulatory failure” for failing to prevent widespread contamination in the private wells used by Kewaunee County residents living near large dairy farms.

Judge Jeffrey Boldt, while granting a large farm’s permit to expand its herd beyond 4,000 cows, ordered the DNR to take several steps, including requiring Kinnard Farms to conduct off-site well testing and cap the number of cows based on “limits that are necessary to protect groundwater and surface waters.”

As of October, the agency was refusing to comply with those two requirements, saying it lacked the legal authority to impose them.

In the absence of rigorous enforcement, the Center found, residents can begin safeguarding their water by using methods including having their private wells tested for contaminants common in their areas or using safer practices when it comes to using water from aging lead pipes. Filters and water conditioners also can remove some harmful elements from drinking water.

But environmental advocates say state and federal lawmakers and regulators must do more to ensure the safety of Wisconsin’s drinking water.

Residents “think the government is protecting their water,” Wright said. “It’s not.”

Problems are statewide

Over the past year, the Center examined the state of Wisconsin’s drinking water. Major findings include:

  • Lead, dangerous especially to children’s brain development, is a threat in a projected 6,000 homes with lead pipes on municipal water systems, according to EPA estimates. And as many as 16,920 of the state’s 940,000 rural households on private wells also could be exposed to unhealthy lead levels, most likely from plumbing, according to a study by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Officials from the EPA and DNR have publicly acknowledged current federal regulations fail to protect against dangerous levels of lead in water.
  • Nitrate exceeds safe levels in the private wells of an estimated 94,000 Wisconsin households, according to state estimates. Despite these dangers, the law carves out a regulatory loophole so that private well owners with nitrate levels that could kill infants cannot qualify for financial assistance to get their wells replaced — unless the wells are used to water livestock.
  • Pesticides, some of which are linked with health issues ranging from cancer to reproductive problems, are present in one-third of the state’s private wells tested, according to the state’s 2014 Groundwater Coordinating Council report to the state Legislature. Tests for the herbicide atrazine, for example, showed 440 of 5,500 wells tested had levels above the EPA’s health enforcement standard.
  • A 2013 Department of Health Services study of 3,868 private wells statewide showed 2.4 percent of them exceeded the safe drinking water standards for arsenic of 10 parts per billion. Applied to all of the state’s private wells — a method endorsed by the study’s lead author — that percentage means residents in some 22,560 homes may be consuming unsafe levels of arsenic, which has been linked to cancer, diabetes, lower IQ and other illnesses.
  • That same study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, found an indicator of possible disease-causing organisms such as E. coli or viruses in 18 percent of the 3,868 private wells tested statewide between 2007 and 2010.
  • Wisconsin’s private wells have some of the highest levels in the United States of the heavy metal strontium, which is suspected of causing rickets and bone deformities in infants and children, according to the EPA. The naturally occurring contaminant, which is currently unregulated, was found by a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay researcher at unsafe levels in 73 out of 114, or 64 percent, of well water samples in Brown, Calumet and Outagamie counties, where the local geology has been linked to the presence of strontium.
  • Tests of municipal wells in 42 communities for radium, a naturally occurring contaminant linked to health problems including cancer, exceeded federal safety limits in 2006. As of June, two dozen communities continued to exceed the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for radium, which is found at higher levels the deeper communities drill down for water. Waukesha continues to find spikes in its water and has made a controversial, internationally watched bid to become the first community outside the Great Lakes watershed to draw its water from Lake Michigan.
  • Unsafe levels of molybdenum, a naturally occurring metal that can cause joint, gastrointestinal, liver and kidney problems, were found in 200 of 1,000 private wells tested in southeastern Wisconsin by the environmental group Clean Wisconsin in 2014. The organization found that the severity of contamination increased the closer wells were to sites with recycled coal ash from power plants. The DNR said the data are insufficient to link the contaminants to coal ash.

According to the petition filed with the EPA last month, “water quality issues permeate throughout Wisconsin and are not confined to a particular area of the state. Petitioners have arrived at a conclusion that the status of the state’s water quality warrants wide-sweeping change.”

Exposure to contaminants large

The number of people exposed to contaminated tap water is hard to come by because most studies involve a single pollutant or region where drinking water is threatened. But when those pollutants and affected regions are looked at in total, the sum of people affected escalates.

For example, statewide sampling of 3,868 private wells by state public health researchers found 47 percent of the tested wells had one or more contaminants at levels exceeding health-based water quality standards.

Lynda Knobeloch, the lead author of the paper and who is now retired from her position as a researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said she was surprised at the percentage of contaminated wells detected in the study. Researchers tested for coliform bacteria, fluoride, nitrate and a panel of 13 metals. The researchers did not test for other contaminants, including pesticides, believed to be in thousands of wells.

“Since an estimated 940,000 Wisconsin households, including more than 300,000 children, drink water from a private well, the finding that nearly half of the wells are unsafe is a major public health concern,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in 2013.

Municipal water systems fare much better than private wells, partly because they are heavily regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and must test for a broad range of contaminants.

In 2014, according to the DNR’s annual report on public drinking water systems, 95.5 percent, or 10,904 systems out of 11,420, met all health-based standards for regulated contaminants.

Ken Bradbury, director of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, said the aquifers from which most municipalities and all private well owners draw their drinking water are by and large a clean and plentiful source of water. But he added a caveat.

“We have this wonderful resource we take for granted,” Bradbury said. “And we don’t respect it enough.”

Natural threats made worse by man

Among the culprits in Wisconsin’s drinking water are natural contaminants such as arsenic and radium. And although they are naturally occurring, their presence in drinking water is often made worse by the drawdown of aquifers that comes with sprawling population growth and insufficient oversight of water use.

About 10 years ago, Bradley Burmeister’s family in Outagamie County had its private well tested for arsenic as part of a high school class project.

The results were shocking: Arsenic levels were 165 times higher than the federal health standard. Ever since, the Burmeisters have been buying bottled water by the case from the grocery store.

Tests by the DNR in the 1990s of nearly 2,000 private wells in northeastern Wisconsin showed nearly 20 percent of them exceeded the health standards for arsenic.

Some wells that once tested negative for arsenic may now be tainted because of drawdown, according to John Luczaj, a groundwater expert at UW-Green Bay.

Patrick Laughrin, who lives in the Calumet County community of Hilbert, said arsenic began showing up in his well after a large dairy operation nearby drilled high-capacity wells.

Another natural contaminant, radium, has begun to show up in the water systems of communities such as Sussex in Waukesha County, which is part of eastern Wisconsin’s “radium belt.” The radioactive substance is more prevalent the deeper communities drill into a depleted aquifer.

Rules improve water quality

Not all the news is bad.

The federal Clean Water Act was passed 40 years ago, and Wisconsin’s waters — especially its lakes and rivers — saw tremendous improvements in quality as point sources of pollution coming from industries were cleaned up.

According to the DNR, since the passage of the federal law, Fox River paper mills cut pollution from 425,000 to 22,000 pounds of solids a day. Milwaukee went from an estimated 60 combined sewer overflows a year to 2.5. Phosphorus pollution from point sources such as factories and municipalities has been cut by 67 percent since 1994, according to the agency.

Jill Jonas, head of the DNR’s Drinking and Groundwater program, called Wisconsin’s efforts to ensure clean drinking water for the state a “tremendous success story.”

One hundred years ago, she noted, Wisconsin’s State Board of Health recorded 105 cases of waterborne typhoid fever for every 100,000 people. Today, such illnesses are rare, with about 400 cases nationwide each year — and more than two-thirds of them are acquired during international travel.

Things also are looking up for neighbors of the defunct Badger Army Ammunition Plant after years of agitating by citizens for clean water. Residents there have been drinking bottled water because of private wells contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and other contaminants, byproducts of manufacturing explosives for World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Town of Merrimac resident Gene Franks described living with “gnawing doubt” about the safety of his drinking water. But soon Franks’ home will be among the nearly 400 households in this scenic area south of Baraboo to get a municipal supply of water  — courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Some regulation lax, full of loopholes

Despite the sometimes dramatic improvements in overall water quality, activists contend the state has gone backwards in recent years when it comes to enforcement of clean-water laws.

In 2011, the EPA identified 75 failings in the DNR’s enforcement of the state’s wastewater pollution permit program. Last month, after the residents’ petition was filed, the state agency announced it is working on two rule packages that will address 21 of the issues. The agency said it has resolved 36 of the issues and is working on more rule changes that will solve the 18 remaining problems.

“Our state has historically been, and continues to be, a leader in many water-related areas,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a news release.

But the residents’ petition said the agency’s actions to resolve deficiencies represent a “lack of meaningful response.” The petition also charged that the agency’s authority and staff have been whittled away, citing the loss of 600 positions in the past 20 years.

The petitioners claim Wisconsin now lacks the staff to adequately inspect and manage permits for wastewater sources, including large farms, municipalities and industries. EPA estimates show two-thirds of such facilities in Wisconsin are operating with expired waste discharge permits — the third worst rate in the nation.

Recent reorganization at the agency by Gov. Scott Walker “raises even more doubt” about its ability to carry out its duties under the Clean Water Act, according to the petition. One of those changes is eliminating a separate water division and consolidating both water and air pollution under a Business Support and External Services Division.

“The governor and state Legislature have starved the DNR’s power and robbed the agency’s experienced staff of professional autonomy to make informed decisions,” Wright said in a statement, adding, “Without effective government, we are compounding what our children and grandchildren will face in a world increasingly short of drinking water.”

Portions of the series were produced in collaboration with journalism classes participating in The Confluence, a project involving the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The nonprofit Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the journalism school. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

FAILURE AT THE FAUCET: Safeguarding your drinking water: What you can do

Wisconsin residents can take a number of steps to make sure their drinking water is safe. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you live in one of the 940,000 households in Wisconsin that rely on a private well, have your water tested or test it yourself. The state Department of Natural Resources recommends getting your well tested once a year for coliform bacteria and any time you notice a change in how your water looks, smells or tastes. Check with your county health department on what contaminants may be found in your area and for which you might also want to test.
  • You can get more information on testing from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, including details on how to obtain testing kits and the costs of various tests. The test for coliform bacteria, for example, costs $29, as do the tests for lead and nitrate.
  • For those using municipal water, get the consumer confidence report from your local water utility. Or you can access the reports on the DNR’s database of public water systems. Also, find out if your utility disinfects for viruses or uses corrosion control to help keep lead out of pipes.
  • If your home was built before 1984, consider having it assessed for lead in the water. While pre-1950 homes often have lead service pipes, some homes built before 1984 may have lead solder on the pipes or fixtures that contain lead. Consult the DNR website for safer ways to use water that may contain lead.
  • Consider a filter for your water. But make sure that the filter you choose is effective for removing the specific contaminants that are in your water. The University of Wisconsin-Extension website has advice on which to choose.

— Ron Seely

About the Failure at the Faucet series

Failure at the Faucet is part of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s ongoing Water Watch Wisconsin project, which examines state water quality and supply issues.

The series was produced for The Confluence, a collaborative project involving the Center and students and faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The investigation included reviewing dozens of studies, interviewing many of the state’s foremost water quality scientists and scouring the state to find homeowners who cannot do something most of us take for granted — cup their hand under the kitchen tap and take a long, cool drink of water.

The Confluence was supported by a grant managed by the Online News Association and funded by the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund.

Katy Culver, assistant professor in the journalism school, coordinated The Confluence. Ron Seely, a Center editor and reporter, was project editor.

The investigative reporting class that participated in Failure at the Faucet was taught by Deborah Blum, a former UW-Madison journalism professor and now director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students in the class were Rachael Lallensack, Gabrielle Menard, Tierney King, Silke Schmidt, Kathi Matthews-Risley, Jane Roberts, Mary Kate McCoy, Elise Bayer and Fern Schultz.

 

drinking-map

Demand clean, open gov’t

Differences of opinion are inevitable in government. Disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over public investments, funding for schools or the fairness of our tax code are common.

Despite these differences, everyone can agree that an open, transparent and accessible government is essential to democracy.

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, both Democrats and Republicans have supported laws to protect citizen access, prevent political corruption and maintain high ethical standards.

Unfortunately, this historical bipartisan agreement is nearing an end.

Republicans who control the Legislature in Madison are pushing a package of bills that severely limit the ability of Wisconsin citizens to have their voices heard and hold officials accountable.

These bills follow the recent attempt by Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans to gut Wisconsin’s open record laws. These misguided efforts to limit disclosure of public documents were abandoned only after newspapers, media outlets and citizens responded with overwhelming opposition.

Now, less than three months after the failed attempt to restrict open record access, the GOP is using an end-run tactic to rewrite long-standing campaign finance, ethics and anti-corruption laws.

Walker privately signed the first of these bills, Senate Bill 43, into law on Oct. 23. This law makes it more difficult to prosecute political corruption by exempting politicians from Wisconsin’s John Doe criminal investigation laws.

A second bill completely rewrites Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws allowing corporations to contribute directly to political parties and eliminating important disclosure requirements. The sweeping changes in this bill go beyond the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision and will result in even more TV ads, robocalls and special interest attack mailers during campaign season.

Finally, a third Republican proposal dismantles the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections and ethics laws. The board would be replaced with political appointees using a flawed model that encourages partisan bickering and gridlock rather than actual oversight.

Taken together, these bills make sweeping changes to many long-standing good government protections. This trio of bills is so troubling that one prominent government watchdog group recently called it “a massive, coordinated blitzkrieg on democracy and transparency.”

At a time when students, families and seniors across Wisconsin continue to face serious challenges, we should be focused on strengthening our state’s economy and improving financial security.

These misguided attacks on Wisconsin’s long-standing, bipartisan tradition of open and clean government are a threat to our democratic institutions and will only serve to further polarize Wisconsin’s political environment.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling represents the 32nd Senate District. 

Power plant pollution is a lung health hazard

Few things are more frightening for a parent than racing to the hospital with a child who can’t breathe.

Few things are more difficult for a physician than telling a family that a loved one will not recover from an asthma attack.

We work with people who know those experiences far too well and — because of those experiences — we support reducing carbon pollution.

The American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society members and volunteers understand the impact of polluted air. We know that, as a nation, we have to do more to protect the ability of people to breathe, and that requires us to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

It isn’t enough for physicians to educate patients about the health risks of air pollution and for parents to keep their children with asthma indoors on bad air days. We must reduce pollution before it takes a further toll on our children and families.

As a nation, we have cut air pollution by over 70 percent since 1970, but today more than 147 million Americans (nearly half of the U.S. population) still live where the air is unhealthy to breathe. Warmer temperatures from climate change will make it even harder to reduce air pollution in many places, and increase the likelihood of drought, wildfires and other threats to our health. 

Fortunately, we can fight those threats.

Recently, hundreds of people attended public hearings hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., to speak out in support of the proposed Clean Power Plan to place first-ever limits on power plant carbon pollution. They spoke up because they recognize that reducing carbon pollution benefits the health of communities across the nation.  

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan provides states with tools to reduce the carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent, moving us forward in the fight against climate change. But the plan would do more than that. When fully implemented, the carbon reduction plan would also reduce lethal air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury by 25 percent, preventing up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children each year. The plan would also help prevent heart attacks, hospital admissions and missed days of work or school due to illness.

Public health experts call this prevention. For the rest of us, it’s just simple common sense. That’s why both our organizations support efforts of the EPA to establish national limits on carbon pollution.

If we, as a nation, act responsibly now to reduce carbon pollution, we can simultaneously improve our air quality now and prevent many of the adverse health and environmental impacts for future generations. 

Harold P. Wimmer is the national president and CEO of the American Lung Association and Dr. Thomas Ferkol is president of the American Thoracic Society.

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