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Russ Feingold for U.S. Senate

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Walker moves to weaken manure rules after dairy complaints

Defying environmentalists worried about groundwater contamination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has scaled back proposed rules regulating factory farms’ manure spreading amid complaints from the dairy industry.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters said Walker’s move diminishes more than a year’s worth of work by a coalition of citizens, government officials and the DNR through the Groundwater Collaboration Working Group to address groundwater pollution in the state.

The state Department of Natural Resources last month completed scope statements to update manure spreading regulations for factory farms statewide, with special restrictions for sensitive areas and new rules on airborne spraying. As per state law, the agency submitted the statements to Gov. Scott Walker’s office for approval.

Walker’s office then shared them with the Dairy Business Association, which expressed concerns about the plan.

So in mid-July, the agency submitted a more limited scope statement to Walker. And the  governor approved it the same day.

The new statement doesn’t include revisions on airborne spraying and doesn’t bring rules in line with new state and federal regulations.

This new information was revealed by the Wisconsin State Journal just days before a DNR board meeting where the rules are to be discussed.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters said in a news release that citizens from across the state — some of whom are directly impacted by manure-contaminated drinking water, lakes, and rivers — plan to attend the meeting to make sure the NRB knows the importance of developing strong water protections.

“This move makes it abundantly clear Gov. Walker puts very little value on the health and safety of Wisconsinites,” Kerry Schumann, executive director of WLCV, stated in a news release. “Instead, he seems to favor business interests that refuse to make common sense changes to drinking water regulations.”

The group’s final report was initiated by a petition filed with the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the public NRB meeting tomorrow in Ashland, WLCV will deliver about 2,000 letters from citizens on the issue.

“The NRB has now become the last line of defense in the battle for meaningful change that will protect Wisconsin’s most precious resource,” Schumann said.

The league said in some areas of the state, more than 30 percent of private wells are polluted with nitrates, bacteria, endocrine disruptors and other dangerous substances.

 

Tim Kaine praised by progressive groups across the spectrum


NOW President Terry O’Neill:

“From day one, Tim Kaine will be a vice president who will work to break down the barriers that hold women and marginalized communities back. Women will face difficult and far-reaching challenges during the next four years, and Tim Kaine is a proven leader who has rightly been called “courageous, principled, and value driven.”
“Sen. Kaine is a proud co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, led the fight to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, and supports women’s access to safe, legal and medically appropriate abortion care. Sen. Kaine has also consistently championed universal pre-K, sensible gun regulation, and comprehensive immigration reform, and is an unwavering opponent of the death penalty.
“The combination of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine stands in sharp contrast to the turn-back-the-clock, step up the war on women platform of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Women know this is the most important election in a generation, and we also know that we have a steadfast advocate in Tim Kaine.”

Cecile Richards
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. —PHOTO: David Shankbone

EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock:
“The strongest candidacy for women and families just got even stronger …. Hillary Clinton has championed the most progressive, inclusive agenda in history, and Tim Kaine is an excellent choice to amplify this platform. Sen. Kaine has been a strong supporter of economic opportunity for women — he has stood alongside our women in the Senate and fought for equal pay for women, raising incomes of American workers, and protecting access to health care through the Women’s Health Protection Act. Sen. Kaine is an excellent choice to help move forward an agenda that benefits all Americans.
“After what we saw this week, there is no question that the Donald Trump and Mike Pence ticket is the most dangerous and divisive we have ever seen. The Clinton-Kaine ticket brings hope, vision, and results that will make our country stronger together.”

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund
“Hillary has chosen a leader who has dedicated his life to fight for equity and justice in our country. Never before has a presidential campaign or party platform had a stronger commitment to reproductive health.
“Sen. Kaine is a thoughtful running mate with integrity, whose Senate record has proven he will stand strong against politically motivated efforts to restrict patient access to critical, often lifesaving health care. Senator Kaine has made it clear that he will protect women from government interference when it comes to their right to safe, legal abortion —  a position supported by Planned Parenthood Action Fund  –  and boasts a 100% rating on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund scorecard.
“Planned Parenthood Action Fund will be by Hillary’s side as she and Sen. Kaine make history all the way to the White House.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
“The AFL-CIO supports Hillary Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine as her running mate. Tim Kaine is the son of an ironworker and a teacher, and is grounded in the values of working people.
“He has a strong record on workers’ issues, ranging from raising the minimum wage to securing equal pay for equal work.  He has always been a strong leader and will be an asset to the ticket. He is moral and honest and true to the values he espouses. Clinton-Kaine is a winner for America.”

Mary Kay Henry
SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry —PHOTO:SEIU-UHW

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry:
“For working families, the 2016 election is the most consequential of our lifetimes. The stakes couldn’t be higher — nor the contrast starker — on all of the issues our families need to get ahead. In choosing Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton has tapped as her running mate the right partner to move our country forward and build a better future for all families by rebalancing our economy and democracy to work for everyone, not just greedy corporations and wealthy special interests.
“Tim Kaine is an experienced leader with a proven track record on issues from raising wages to immigration reform and racial justice. He has voted and fought for higher wages, and ensured home care workers had the ability to stand together in a union. His Senate record shows that working families have been his priority as he has worked to expand childcare, protect voting rights, address mass incarceration, preserve the Affordable Care Act, and promote opportunities for women and immigrants. He was the first person ever to deliver a speech on the Senate floor entirely in Spanish, and it was to demand action on commonsense immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
“Above all, we know what is in Tim Kaine’s heart. He is someone who is the son of an ironworker and a teacher, who served as a Catholic missionary, whose first case out of law school was representing at no cost a Black woman who had been the victim of housing discrimination. Tim Kaine’s convictions are rooted in justice for all.
“Together, Clinton and Kaine will stand with working families who have come together in the broadest modern grassroots movement to raise wages and protect opportunities for people to join together in 21st-century unions; increase access to affordable care for our children and aging parents; and advance racial, immigrant and environmental justice for all communities across our country.  SEIU members will continue to come out in record numbers across the country to elect Clinton and Kaine as the next president and vice president of the United States.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
“The choice of Tim Kaine, the son of a welder who has lived middle-class values and has a long track record of progressive accomplishments, reiterates Hillary Clinton’s commitment to building a government that will level the playing field for working families. While the GOP ticket masks irrational ideas behind a morally bankrupt message of fear, bigotry and hatred, a Clinton-Kaine ticket will be focused on helping people see higher wages, lower student debt, good jobs, successful public schools, and safety and security here and abroad.

“The contrasts between a Clinton-Kaine ticket and a Trump-Pence ticket couldn’t be more stark. Donald Trump, the narcissist, believes that he alone can fix our nation’s problems and peddles fear in a campaign devoid of facts, plans or humanity. Clinton and Kaine choose to confront fear and solve problems, and they will use their vast experience to help ensure the American dream is within reach for everyone.
“Strong public education runs deep in the Kaine household. In the U.S. Senate, he took the lead on supporting career and technical education programs in the new federal education law, and he has fought for funding to modernize public school buildings. And as Virginia’s governor, he expanded pre-K programs by 40 percent. His wife, Anne Holton, has been dedicated to fighting for great public schools for decades — she helped integrate Richmond, Va., public schools as a child and today is Virginia’s secretary of education.
“Our nation and the world can feel confident that the Clinton-Kaine ticket will be a great leadership team that will work to break down walls, disarm hate, and make educational and economic opportunity a reality.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue:
“Secretary Clinton’s selection of Senator Kaine provides some much needed sanity to the out-of-control fire that was the Republican convention this week.
“The hate-filled lies, dangerous rhetoric, and mob mentality of the last four days was shocking, and today’s pick reminds us that there are adults in the room who hold American values dear and are committed to governing towards a future of inclusion and unity.
“While Sen. Kaine has been open about his personal reservations about abortion, he’s maintained a 100 percent pro-choice voting record in the U.S. Senate. He voted against dangerous abortion bans, he has fought against efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and he voted to strengthen clinic security by establishing a federal fund for it. In the wake of clinic closures around the country due to deceptive TRAP laws, Senator Kaine has co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that gives federal assurances that women will be able to access their constitutional right to abortion care regardless of what zip code they live in.
“In this country, we know that the vast majority of voters — 7 in 10 — believe abortion should be legal. Some of those voters are like Sen. Tim Kaine — personally opposed to abortion but also strongly believe that this is a personal issue and not one for politicians to meddle in. This is core part of what it means to be pro-choice — supporting everyone’s individual decision making.
“When he was governor, Tim Kaine took positions we disagreed with and actively campaigned against. We’re pleased that since then, his votes and public statements have been consistently in favor of trusting women to make our own decisions. And as with all of our allies, we weren’t afraid to voice disagreement with him then and we will not be afraid to disagree, if needed, with him as vice president.
“The adoption of a Republican Party platform that will rob women — half the population — of our fundamental rights and freedoms is a clear window into the frightening agenda that will make the Trump-Pence misogyny all too real for Americans.
“Secretary Clinton’s record as a champion on abortion access, reproductive freedom and policies that support women and families could not be more stellar. She has laid out a clear agenda of expanding fundamental freedoms through repeal of the Hyde and Helms amendments and has strongly advocated for women through expanded family planning and access to contraception, providing paid family leave and assuring robust pregnancy nondiscrimination. We trust Secretary Clinton would not select Senator Kaine, and Senator Kaine would not accept the position, if he could not fully support Secretary Clinton’s robust agenda when it comes to preserving and expanding reproductive freedom and justice.”

LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld:
“Awesome choice, Hillary! We’re thrilled that Hillary has picked Sen.Tim Kaine to be her running mate. As mayor, governor, and senator, he has a proven track record as an environmental leader who has worked to combat climate change, grow our clean energy economy and protect special places in Virginia and across the country. An environmental champion with an impressive 91 percent score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard, Senator Kaine is a fantastic addition to the presidential ticket. LCV Action Fund could not be more excited to help elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine the next president and vice president of the United States. Onward!”

Brune Brune
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune —PHOTO: Sierra Club

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune:
“Secretary Clinton’s selection of Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate completes the strongest environmental ticket we’ve ever seen. Together, Clinton and Kaine will build on President Obama’s legacy to safeguard our climate, air, water, and public lands, protect the most vulnerable from environmental injustice, and continue the rapid expansion of our clean energy economy.
“The Democratic ticket is in sharp contrast to the Republican’s, which features not one but two climate deniers, a first in American history. The Trump-Pence regime would be the only world leaders to hold that position. Simply put, a Trump-Pence Presidency wouldn’t be the only “TPP” that would destroy our climate.
“A leader on climate and our environment, Senator Kaine fought against the now rejected Keystone XL pipeline and continues to work to expand America’s clean energy.
“The Sierra Club applauds Secretary Clinton’s selection of Senator Kaine as her running mate, and we will work tirelessly to elect them.”

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
“From an immigration policy perspective, Sen. Tim Kaine has a stellar voting record. But his commitment to immigrant communities goes much deeper. In April, Kaine was one of the first senators to sit down with undocumented families eligible for executive action to learn about the issues firsthand at a “DAPA Dinner.” We commend Hillary Clinton for choosing a running mate who is a true champion for immigrants and an inclusive vision for America at a time when both are under threat.”

Pili Tobar, Advocacy and Communications Director for Latino Victory Fund:
“Sen. Tim Kaine has a long history of fighting for justice, opportunity and equality. During his time in the Senate, he has worked to advance economic policies that would put more money in the pockets of hardworking Latino and American families. He has been a staunch advocate for a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, for legislation to combat climate change, and for immigration reform that will keep our families together and allow people to come out of the shadows and continue contributing to the country they love. Senator Kaine is no stranger to the Latino community — he spent time in Honduras running a technical Jesuit school, and throughout his career, as one of the few Spanish speakers in the Senate, he has consistently put emphasis on communicating with our community, hearing and addressing their concerns.
”We are proud to stand with the Clinton-Kaine ticket because they represent the values and policies that Latinos care about. Only Clinton-Kaine can move this country forward and ensure a prosperous future for our families, in which Latinos are treated with dignity and respect.”
”On behalf of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the 4.1 million Hispanic owned businesses we represent, we applaud Secretary Clinton’s decision to name United States Sen. Tim Kaine as her vice presidential choice. Our organization has followed the public service career of Sen. Kaine from his days as Mayor of Richmond, Virginia, to his days as lieutenant governor and governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. There is no doubt in our mind Sen. Kaine has the experience needed in a vice president.
“Getting elected to the Commonwealth of Virginia requires a strong record with the business community. On this measure, Sen. Kaine has passed with flying colors. In him we see a partner the business community can work with as he rolls up his sleeves to work with our next President of the United States.
“We call on our friends in the business community to listen carefully as Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine make their case for the most important office in the land. We look forward to a spirited campaign worthy of this great nation. We wish the best of luck to the thousands of campaign staffers crisscrossing our beautiful country over the course of the next four months.”

 

 

Wisconsin DOJ shrinks environmental protection unit

The state Justice Department has shrunk staffing levels in its environmental protection unit to the lowest level in 25 years.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the unit had six attorneys last year compared to 10 as recently as 2008. A DOJ spokesman says he couldn’t explain the trend, although he mentioned that lawyers with the agency’s special litigation unit and solicitor general’s office work so closely with other attorneys that it’s hard to determine how much responsibility they’ve assumed for environmental protection.

Carl Sinderbrand, a lawyer who once worked in the environmental unit, says the staffing reduction may reflect the dwindling number of pollution cases the Department of Natural Resources has referred for legal action. Last year fines against polluters dropped to their lowest point since at least 1994.

The reason: Along with reductions in prosecutions for environmental violations handled by the DOJ, there are fewer DNR inspections being carried out due to agency staffing and budget cuts and a lack of follow-up by the DNR on violations that it does discover.

Under Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s Republican leadership, the environment has been under constant attack, according to environmental groups. The moneyed interests, as represented by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, fossil fuel companies and the real-estate industry, have gradually gained the upper hand since Wisconsin came under one-party rule in 2011.

Republicans have severely curtailed the DNR’s authority. They passed a law that mandates business and industrial interests must be given precedence over environmental concerns when it comes to maintaining the state’s clean water supply. They fired all DNR scientists whose work touched on climate change.

According to data compiled by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, very few polluters pay penalties today even when they’re caught. Instead, they’re getting off scot-free.

Republicans have permitted the nation’s largest tar sands pipeline, run by the world’s most accident-prone oil and gas pipeline operator, to flow under every major waterway in the state.

Just days ago, a new Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources draft report concluded that sand mining operations don’t produce fine dust particles and shouldn’t impact human health, a finding that’s all wrong, according to an environmental advocacy group.

For comprehensive coverage of Wisconsin’s environment, visit www.wisconsingazette.com.

Walker gives green light to Wisconsin nukes

From WiG reports

Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a bill lifting Wisconsin’s ban on new nuclear plants.

Under prior law, regulators could not approve a new nuclear plant unless a federal facility for storing waste existed and the plant didn’t burden ratepayers.

The new bill, signed five years after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, erases the storage and ratepayer clauses from the state law enacted in 1983. That was 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.

The bill’s Republican authors argued nuclear power is a renewable energy source and the ratepayer language duplicates other sections of state law that require regulators to determine that any new power plant won’t burden customers.

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

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

That’s the very argument being made by Koch Industries and other fossil fuel giants who vehemently oppose wind and solar energy. The industry’s sway over Walker and the state’s GOP majority is widely believed to be the reason why green renewables in Wisconsin lag other states in the region.

Since 1997, the Koch brothers have personally spent at least $80 million persuading the public that climate change is a hoax, and Exxon-Mobil and other energy companies have spent many tens of millions more.

Meanwhile, environmentalists view nuclear energy as an unmitigated disaster.

“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.”

According to the Sierra Club, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint, despite the carbon industry’s claims to the contrary. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters also opposed the law, referring to it as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law.” The group urged the public to lobby legislators against allowing nuclear power plants in the state.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter opposed the measure, as did the national Sierra Club, which remains “unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” a statement from the environmental group reads. “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.

An additional concern in Wisconsin, according to the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition, is passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

The coalition has warned 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 Department of Energy 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 currently has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers.

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

Find more environmental news at www.wisconsingazette.com.

Read also: Crisis continues five years after Fukushima meltdown

Wisconsin bill would allow privatization of water supplies

The eyes of the world are on Flint, Michigan right now, as their citizens suffer from lead poisoning simply because they used water from their tap to drink, bathe and cook. The crisis in Flint points to the critical need to have access to clean drinking water and effective sewer systems for the health and well being of any community, and makes us realize that unsafe drinking water is not just a problem in less developed countries.

In fact, it’s a problem right here in Wisconsin — a problem that could get much worse if AB 554 is voted into law.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has taken a deep look at Wisconsin’s water systems and found that tens of thousands of Wisconsinites are at risk from drinking water contaminated with nitrates, lead, pesticides, e coli and other contaminants.

This isn’t just limited to private wells — many municipal water systems are at risk.

In fact, in 2012, researchers definitively linked the presence of viruses in 14 Wisconsin municipal water systems to acute gastrointestinal illness. And, more than 73,000 people use water provided by 60 municipal water systems that do not disinfect, thanks to legislation in 2011 that removed a requirement to disinfect municipal water systems.

AB 554, which will lead to privatization of community water supplies, is another step in a downward march toward more Wisconsinites suffering from unsafe drinking water.

There are some things that are so critical and fundamental, like safe drinking water and management of sewage, that they require the transparency and accountability that comes with local elected control. Government has a level of accountability to citizens that private companies do not.

Here’s one way to think about it: Think about when you have a problem with your phone service. You typically spend hours being passed from faceless person to computer system and back to another faceless person who could be anywhere in the world. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, or more to solve the problem.

Now imagine that water starts coming out of your tap brown, your family starts getting sick, and you have to attempt to get help from a faceless, out-of-state private corporation that has no accountability to you or other voters living in the community.

It’s bad enough running into this lack of responsiveness when you’re talking about a phone plan. The health of your family is certainly more important than phone service, and we should treat it that way.

Access to clean drinking water and effective sewer systems is a fundamental necessity, and should be open to public scrutiny. Wisconsin should be investing in these public systems to ensure they are in good repair and provide clean water to our citizens, not selling them off to the lowest bidder.”

See also:

Judge rules DNR can’t impose requirements on walls at large farms

Trail of cancer deaths near plastics factory tied to tap water

Legionnaires outbreak linked to Flint River drinking water fiasco

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is 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 public health and natural resources.

You can follow legislation impacting natural resources on our Conservation Vote Tracker, a real-time accountability tool that provides you with a complete picture of what conservation issues are in play and how legislators are performing: http://conservationvoters.org/vote-tracker/. 


Wisconsin Republicans declare open season against environment

UPDATED: Republicans took target practice in early January after declaring open season on Wisconsin’s environmental resources.

The new year began with a bang, bang in the Capitol, where in just two days Republicans presided over a series of hearings on bills aimed at rolling back protections for air, land and water and at the same time curtailing the authority of local governments to protect natural resources.

“From developing on lake beds to filling in wetlands to taking away local governments’ authority to protect the health of their communities, the Legislature is starting 2016 off with a pretty loud message to Wisconsinites,” said Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. The message, Schumann said, is lawmakers “are putting the wishes of big developers, factory farms, frac sand mining companies and other polluting interests above the needs of their constituents.”

WLCV and the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, both nonprofit environmental advocacy groups, identified two measures of special concern — AB 600/SB 459, aka the “polluter grab bag,” and AB 582/SB 464, aka the “developer grab bag.”

Supporters of the measures say they protect and advance “property rights.” 

Opponents say they further erode protections for Wisconsin’s natural resources.

‘Polluter grab bag’

AB 600/SB 459 would allow developers to build on lake beds, provide incentives for developing a million acres of wetlands that lack federal protections and allow lakefront property owners to dredge up to three dump-truck loads of lakebed sediment every year.

The Assembly Committee on Environment and Forestry held a hearing Jan. 5 on the bill, which is backed by Americans for Prosperity, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Waste Management, Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Registered opponents include WLCV, Clean Lakes Alliance, Clean Wisconsin, League of Women Voters, River Alliance, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Wisconsin Association of Lakes, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association and Wisconsin Wetlands Association.

“AB 600 undermines the public trust doctrine, allowing property owners on Wisconsin lakes, including the Great Lakes, to dredge material without any oversight and in most cases without even testing to make sure the dredged material is not contaminated,” said Bill Davis, director of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter. “And the bill gives away public lake bed.”

‘Developer grab bag’

AB 582/SB 464 would prohibit counties from placing moratoriums on new development. It also would prevent local governments from creating zoning requirements in response to a developer expressing an interest in locating there, according to the WLCV.

The measure would provide financial incentives to develop land that is held in conservation easements and allow developers to shop around for a judge if there is a challenge to a permit.

The Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing and Trade held a hearing on Jan. 5 on SB 464, which has the support of WEC Energy Group, Wisconsin Builders Association and Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Opponents include Clean Wisconsin, League of Women Voters, River Alliance, Sierra Club, the town of Saratoga and WLCV.

“The polluter and developer grab bags open the floodgates for developers, frac sand mining companies, factory farms and other special interests to make our water dirtier, fill in our wetlands and run roughshod over local communities and private citizens,” Schumann said.

Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator with the Sierra Club, added, “This bill provides more giveaways to major corporations, like frac sand and oil pipeline companies, and removes the rights of landowners across Wisconsin to enjoy their land.”

Also on the watch list this session …

• SB 479 was the subject of a Jan. 5 hearing held by the Senate Committee on Insurance, Housing and Trade. Backers include a union local — the Madison Area Builders Association.

Opponents maintain the measure would undermine Dane County’s authority on zoning and thus threaten local protections for wildlife and habitat. 

“This is another example of the state legislators attacking local control and making decisions that should be made at the local level,” said Dave Blouin, chair of Sierra’s Four Lakes Group.

• SB 434 would open up more state forests to timber production. The bill also would prohibit the state Department of Natural Resources from offering guidance to property owners on wildlife action plans or requiring property owners to take action to protect species at risk.

The state’s lobbying records show the Sierra Club joining WLCV in opposing the measure, which has support from Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Wisconsin Alliance of Forest Owners, Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin County Forests Association, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry held a hearing on the bill on Jan. 5.

• SB 432 would promote privatizing Wisconsin’s water by allowing communities to sell water utilities to private out-of-state companies. The Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Public Works and Military Affairs held a Jan. 5 hearing on the measure, which is backed by some labor groups and opposed by environmental groups.

• AB 603 would prohibit counties from enacting stronger protections for waters if local authorities determined state minimum standards were insufficient.

The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage held a hearing on Jan. 6 on the bill, which is opposed by WLCV, Clean Lakes Alliance, Clean Wisconsin, River Alliance and Wisconsin Association of Lakes.

• SB 288 would remove the nuclear moratorium, lifting barriers to constructing new nuclear power plants in the state. It includes the requirement that new plants have a plan of action for dealing with hazardous waste.

Additionally, the bill would put nuclear energy on the list of preferred energy options in the state — despite high costs associated with production and major concerns about the disposal of waste and dismantling of outdated facilities.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held a hearing Jan. 5 on the measure, which has overwhelming support from energy companies, labor unions and trade associations.

Opponents include the Citizens Utility Board, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and environmental groups.

Action alert

Track Wisconsin environmental issues at conservationvoters.org, the website for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Track legislation at notify.legis.wisconsin.gov.

Slippery slope: Budget imperils natural resources | WiG cover story

Despite Wisconsin’s deep partisan divide, there’s one area of policy on which the state’s Republicans and Democrats emphatically agree: conservation.

Maintaining the state’s pristine, spectacular natural resources is that rare goal that rises above political wrangling. A bipartisan statewide poll released on March 18 by the Nature Conservancy, an environmental protection group, showed that Wisconsinites of both parties overwhelmingly support continuing state funding for land, water and wildlife conservation. Seventy-six percent of Republicans, 88 percent of independents and 97 percent of Democrats said the state should continue making such investments.

The findings create something of a dilemma for the state’s Republican leaders. They are faced with a budget presented by Gov. Scott Walker that’s anything but supportive of Wisconsin’s great outdoors.

Walker already has cut current funding for the state’s bipartisan Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, a public land acquisition and access program that reserves woodland, wetlands and shorelines for the public. His proposed biennial budget goes even farther, calling for the stewardship program to be suspended for 13 years. 

The cut represents less than 0.5 percent of Wisconsin’s General Purpose Revenue expenditures — an amount smaller than the cost of a fishing license or state park sticker for every resident in the state.

“Nearly 9 in 10 Wisconsin voters believe that, even when the budget is tight, the state should continue to invest in protecting Wisconsin’s land, water and wildlife,” said Lori Weigel from Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey on behalf of the conservancy. ”Most voters also said that one of the best things state government does is protect Wisconsin’s natural areas, outdoor recreation and history in state parks and other public lands.”

‘Taking the public out’

Given Walker’s policy inclinations, conservationists fear that suspending public land acquisition puts the state on a slippery slope that will lead to the sale of priceless wilderness and green spaces. The state’s park lovers interpret other items in the budget as a move toward privatization of the system, an approach that’s been tried — and has failed — in other states.

In his budget bill, Walker proposes cutting all general purpose tax funding of the park budgets, which currently amounts to $4.6 million. The governor apparently wants either to force the system to become self-supporting or to privatize its management, which would turn the parks and their concessions — gift shops, firewood sales, etc. — over to for-profit businesses, say critics of the cut.

“Self-sufficiency is a noble cause, but it cannot be accomplished in the present year,” wrote Bill Zager, president of the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks, in a letter to supporters. The proposed cut, he said, would prevent the parks from functioning at a level that users expect, even with the huge network of volunteers who have helped the parks survive prior budget cuts.

The parks once received 50 percent of their support from the state, but that amount has already declined to 21 percent, according to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

“The parks are owned by the state’s taxpayers. You can’t just say that you don’t want to take care of them,” Zager said. Members of FWSP groups already pitch in to help with the costs. The groups have raised $540,000 and provided nearly 187,000 volunteer hours to help maintain the parks.

Zager said his group is in favor of accepting corporate donations, which are already helping to pay for park improvements. “But there is not a mechanism in place to make (corporate donations) work for day-to-day operating costs at this time,” he pointed out in his letter.

Like other groups, his is opposed to selling naming rights of state lands to corporate sponsors. 

To help make up for the loss of state funding, the proposed budget would increase fees for an annual state park pass from $25 to $28 and raise camping fees by $2 per night. Visitors would have to pay an additional fee of $9.70 just to make reservations. While that might not seem like much, it would deter poorer families from visiting the parks and reduce the amount of money that visitors spend at local businesses.

Handing the parks over to private management would raise fees further, since companies are structured to make profits.

“The park system is really there for the average Wisconsinite who doesn’t have the ability to buy lakefront property,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “The parks provide an opportunity for the people to enjoy nature. Walker really is creating a state for the elite … where the rich have things and the rest of us don’t.”

Another controversial item in Walker’s budget calls for turning the Department of Natural Resources into an advisory board with no decision-making authority. That role would be shifted to Walker’s administration. 

Conservationists are not happy about the proposal. Walker’s record has stirred intense anger among environmentalists. He eased the mine permitting process after Gogebic Taconite made a $700,000 donation to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which benefits state Republicans, and he’s suing President Barack Obama’s administration over new regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

“There’s a lot of outrage,” Hiniker said. “Walker is taking the public out of the management of state resources. Wisconsin’s land management was always built on the idea that we’d have public input and a public voice to make sure that politics didn’t get in the way of managing the parks in the best interest of the environment. Management of our resources used to be beyond politics. Now we have a management style that allows all kinds of political issues to trump the people’s interests.”

Anti-science purges

An additional item in Walker’s budget that is causing anger calls for the elimination of 66 positions from the DNR — one-quarter of them held by scientists whose research and knowledge are essential to properly managing the state’s wildlife and natural resources, from bobcat populations to old growth forests.

Critics question whether Walker’s attack on the DNR — and its scientists in particular — is payback for the agency’s work on climate change, which state Republicans deny is occurring, as well as for the limits DNR officials have set on hunting and their opposition to mining operations that use caustic chemicals near sensitive wetlands and sources of drinking water.

In 2013, Walker signed the Koch brothers “no climate change action” pledge, according to Jim Rowen’s blog The Political Environment. When Walker appointed real estate developer Cathy Stepp to head the DNR, he openly crowed that she was tapped because he wanted someone with “a chamber of commerce mentality,” Rowen wrote.

Critics contend that Walker doesn’t want science getting in the way of profits for his cronies. Whatever the motivation, it’s impossible to detangle science from environmental management.

“Any real natural resources protection is based on sound science,” Amber Meyer Smith, director of programs and government relations for Clean Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The more science you remove from the process, the more politics you add.”

Meyer Smith told the Journal Sentinel that the science cuts to the DNR and Walker’s proposed $300 million budget slash to the University of Wisconsin system share a troubling characteristic — hostility toward intellectual work. 

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters executive director Kerry Schumann holds out hope that Walker’s cuts to conservation and the park system can yet be avoided. She’s heard criticism of Walker’s plan from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. “People like (Assembly Speaker) Robin Voss are being very vocal in opposing this,” she said.

“Right now, even money that has already been approved and allocated for land purchases isn’t being spent,” Schumann said. “They’re being held up even though the money is there. First (Walker) cut funding to the stewardship program, then didn’t make the land purchases and now there’s a complete freeze. There’s this slippery slope that makes you wonder where it’s all headed.”

Hiniker is less optimistic that the governor can be persuaded to change his stance.

“For one month, 100,000 people were chanting outside the Capitol and it didn’t change a damn thing,” Hiniker said. “Walker has shown that he’s immune to protests.”

Parks’ economic role

A majority of those surveyed said that protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources is important to a healthy economy, and the numbers agree. The stewardship program protects many of the natural resources on which Wisconsin’s $13 billion tourism industry, $22 billion forestry industry and $4 billion hunting and fishing industry depend, according to WLCV. Recreation also is high on the list of amenities that attract businesses to the state.

Park visitors help support rural economies that have few other ways to generate revenue.

“When a family goes to a state park, they spend an average of $230 on the businesses around the park,” Schumann said. The revenue is dependable and steadily growing. Visits to state parks have risen 12 percent since 2002, even as funding for the parks has declined.

The state’s park system includes 46 state parks, 14 state trails, four recreational areas, eight state forests and two national scenic trails. In addition to the tourists who visit Wisconsin’s scenic wonders, the state is home to an enthusiastic population of hikers, campers, backpackers, snowmobilers, kayakers, boaters, rock climbers, hunters, anglers, cross-country skiers, birdwatchers, picnickers and others who enjoy outdoor recreation — or just the peace of communing with nature.

Wisconsin’s parks and green spaces are as essential to the state’s identity as beer and cheese. Indeed, the very name of Wisconsin’s land stewardship fund reflects the state’s deeply rooted bipartisan ties to conservation. Former Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, and Republican Gov. Warren Knowles were its inspiration.

Wisconsin has produced several important conservationists. In addition to Nelson and Knowles, the list of Wisconsin conservationists includes the legendary John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Nina Leopold Bradley and Hilary “Sparky” Waukau, a member of the Menomonee Nation who helped save the northern part of Wisconsin from becoming a nuclear waste dump. Perhaps those historical figures helped to establish the outdoorsy culture that the Nature Conservancy’s survey found among state residents.

But the Walker budget rejects this tradition.

“When it comes to conservation, this budget is absolutely terrible,” Schumann said.

In our camp, on our ballots

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin endorses candidates who support family planning and a woman’s right to choose. In the Nov. 4 general election, endorsed candidates include:

GOVERNOR: Mary Burke

LT. GOVERNOR: John Lehman

GOVERNOR: Mary Burke

LT. GOVERNOR: John Lehman

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Susan Happ 

STATE SENATE: Penny Bernard Schaber Janet Bewley, Tim Carpenter, Dean DeBroux; Jon Erpenbach, Martha Laning, Chris Larson, Janis Ringhand

STATE ASSEMBLY: Peter Barca, Mandela Barnes, Terese Berceau, Jill Billings, David Bowen, Jonathon Brostoff, Dick Cates, Dave Considine, Steve Doyle, George Ferriter, Peter Flesch, Eric Genrich, Gary Hebl, Dianne Hesselbein, Gordon Hintz, La Tonya Johnson, Robb Kahl, Frederick Kessler, Debra Kolste, Joe Majeski, Cory Mason, Beth Meyers, Chris Miller, Tod Ohnstad, Jeff Peck, Sondy Pope, Daniel Riemer, Melissa Sargent, Katrina Shankland, Christine Sinicki, Jeff Smith, Mark Spreitzer, Nancy Stencil, Amanda Stuck, Lisa Subek, Chris Taylor; Amy Sue Vruwink; Dana Wachs; Mandy Wright; Leon Young; JoCasta Zamarripa; Josh Zepnick.

***

Fair Wisconsin Political Action Committee endorses candidates committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Wisconsinites. Fair’s endorsements include: 

GOVERNOR: Mary Burke

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Susan Happ

CONGRESS: Mark Pocan, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, Mark Harris, Kelly Westlund

STATE SENATE: Dean DeBroux, Tim Carpenter, Chris Larson, Martha Laning, Janis Ringhand, Pat Bomhack, Penny Bernard Schaber, Randy Bryce, Phil Swanhorst, Janet Bewley, Jon Erpenbach, Kathleen Vinehout

STATE ASSEMBLY: Joe Majeski, Daniel Riemer, JoCasta Zamarripa, Josh Zepnick, David Bowen, Mandela Barnes, Fred Kessler, La Tonya Johnson, Evan Goyke, Jonathan Brostoff, Christine Sinicki, Jessie Read, Terry Van Akkeren, Scott G Heinig, Travis Schachtner, Darrel Laumann, Mary Arnold, George Ferriter, Deb Kolste, Mark Spreitzer, Gary Hebl, Robb Kahl, Melissa Sargent, Chad Henneman, Christopher Miller, Todd Novak, Gordon Hintz, Mark Westphal, Amanda Stuck, Cory Mason, Jeff Peck, Norb Salamonski, Katrina Shankland, Nick Milroy, Beth Meyers, Chris Taylor, Terese Berceau, Lisa Subeck, Dianne Hesselbein, Sondy Pope, Dave Considine, Mandy Wright, Nancy Stencil, Dan Robinson, Eric Genrich, Dana Wachs, Chris Danou, Jeff Smith, Steve Doyle, Jill Billings, Peter Flesch.

***

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters endorses candidates on a set of criteria including their ability to solve conservation problems. Endorsements include:

GOVERNOR: Mary Burke 

LT. GOVERNOR: John Lehman

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Susan Happ

STATE SENATE: Dean DeBroux, Chris Larson, Martha Laning, Penny Bernard Schaber, Janet Bewley, Jon Erpenbach, Kathleen Vinehout

STATE ASSEMBLY: Joel Kitchens, Al Ott, Daniel Riemer, JoCasta Zamarripa, Mandela Barnes, La Tonya Johnson, Evan Goyke, Christine Sinicki, George Ferriter, Debra Kolste, Mark Spreitzer, Gary Hebl, Richard Cates, Gordon Hintz, Rob Brooks, Peter Barca, Tod Ohnstad, Cory Mason, Jeff Peck, Bob Kulp, Katrina Shankland, Scott Krug, Nick Milroy, Beth Meyers, Chris Taylor, Dave Considine, Mandy Wright, Dan Robinson, Eric Genrich, Dana Wachs, Chris Danou, Steve Doyle. 

Election Day is on Nov. 4. Remember to vote for progress.

Wisconsin environmental group urges state to reject Smart Sand application

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is calling on the state to reject an application from an out-of-state frac sand mining company that is seeking status as a green company.

The environmental group is calling on Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, to reject the application for “Green Tier” status from Smart Sand, Inc. The Green Tier program was created in 2004 to reward companies for superior environmental performance. To qualify, companies must have a demonstrated commitment to protecting the environment.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says Smart Sand doesn’t come close to qualifying.

“Not only does Smart Sand not meet the Green Tier criteria, they are guilty of violating air pollution standards already. Awarding them with this special recognition would be nothing less than greenwashing. And that’s not going to sit well with Wisconsin citizens, past Green Tier recipients, or us,” said Anne Sayers, program director for Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Nearly 2,000 citizens registered their opposition to the prospect of awarding Green Tier status to the frac sand mining company. The DNR claims it received more comments on this particular Green Tier application than any in the program’s 10-year history. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters supporters alone generated 1,932 comments. 

Smart Sand, according to environmentalists, has a processing capacity of over a million tons of sand per year on its more than 1,000 acres in Oakdale. In the two years the company has operated in Wisconsin, it has received a notice of violation for failure to comply with state air pollution standards.

“The decision of whether to undermine the integrity of the Green Tier program or not rests in the hands of Gov. Walker appointee, Secretary Stepp. We join thousands of others in asking Secretary Stepp to stop delaying and reject the Smart Sand Green Tier application,” said Sayers.