Tag Archives: state legislature

Environmental group continues challenge of Dane County pipeline pumping station | Meeting tonight in Madison

Partnering with local landowners, climate change organization 350 Madison continues to oppose Enbridge Corporation’s plans to ship more tar sands oil in pipelines through Dane County.

On Dec. 2, the group filed a brief with the Dane County Board opposing the company’s latest demand that the county remove all references to the need to buy cleanup insurance in case of an oil spill from zoning permits.

The board will hear 350 Madison’s objections to the appeal taken by Enbridge at its 7 p.m. meeting on Dec. 3 in room 201 of the City-County Building in Madison.

Enbridge, according to a statement from 350 Madison, plans to triple its originally approved Pipeline 61 volume of 400,000 barrels per day to more than 1.2 million barrels per day — nearly 50 percent more than the Keystone XL pipeline was to transport.

Enbridge sought and quickly received approval to upgrade pipeline pumping capacity in all other Wisconsin counties through which Line 61 runs on its path from Superior to the Illinois border, but Dane County landowners and environmentalists halted progress here last year, when Enbridge was held to compliance with county zoning restrictions for prime agricultural land.

In April, following several packed preliminary hearings, the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee voted to support 350 Madison’s proposal that Enbridge should be required to carry extra insurance to help cover cleanup costs in event of a spill.

In May, Enbridge appealed the committee’s decision requiring $25 million in clean up insurance as a permitting condition, but before the matter could be taken up by the full county board, GOP legislators added a rider to the budget bill in containing a provision barring counties from requiring insurance from pipeline companies.

Meanwhile, in late July, zoning committee administrator Roger Lane removed the insurance requirement and issued Enbridge the pumping expansion permit, according to 350 Madison.

However, according to the brief filed by the environmental group on behalf of two Medina residents whose property abuts the Dane County pumping station, “…By ordinance, only the Zoning Committee can issue, or modify, a conditional use permit by a majority vote of its members, among whom the Administrator does not number, and … only after consultation with the town, notice and public hearing.”  

The environmental group believes the permit issued by Lane has no legal effect and the zoning committee’s original requirement for Enbridge to maintain clean up insurance remains on the books, even though the county can no longer enforce the provision due to the budget rider.

“It is not enough that Enbridge can go ahead and build its pump station in Dane County. Now, their appeal to the County Board to strike language from the Conditional Use Permit for environmental cleanup insurance is insulting taxpaying citizens of Dane County and members of the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee who exercised their duty to constituents,” Mary Beth Elliott, Tar Sands Team Leader for 350 Madison, stated in the news release.

She continued, “Zoning committee members worked extensively to grapple with the potential horrific effects of a tar sands spill here from a pipeline to flow at an unprecedented 1.2 million barrels daily. They knew what they were doing in requiring environmental insurance, based on the testimony of an internationally recognized insurance expert. The environmental insurance requirement needs to remain on the permit, not be struck because a foreign pipeline giant can afford high paid lobbyists to influence legislation.”

Enbridge, according to 350 Madison, had a staff of four lobbyists in Madison during the run up to the budget bill, but the company claims its lobbyists never met with lawmakers.

Enbridge is responsible for more than 800 spills since 1999. In Wisconsin, pipeline ruptures in 2007 spilled about 29,000 gallons of crude oil onto a farm in Clark County and about 176,000 gallons of oil onto a farm in Rusk County. In 2009, a rupture spilled about 1,200 barrels of oil on a farm in Grand Marsh.

The worst Enbridge spill was the 2010 spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. About 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil flowed into a creek and then the river, making the Kalamazoo disaster the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The spill revealed the destructiveness of tar sands oil. Tar sands ore, mined from deforested land in Canada, must be mixed with chemicals to move through a pipeline. This makes the crude more acidic and leads to more ruptures and spills, according to the Sierra Club.

In Michigan, when the tar sands crude spilled and was exposed to air, toxic gases forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes and a thick, heavy tar gunk sank to the river bottom.

The cleanup on the Kalamazoo, which environmentalists and the EPA say still is incomplete, has cost more than $1.2 billion — an amount well over the cap on Enbridge’s liability insurance.

Related to this story…

Amid strong field, Marina Dimitrijevic is best choice to represent Milwaukee’s 19th Assembly District

On June 6, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced to a cheering crowd at PrideFest that he was keeping the courthouse open that evening for same-sex couples to get married. Abele didn’t want lesbian and gay couples who’d been waiting for years to have to wait any longer after a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban earlier that day.

Among the first to arrive at the courthouse to lend a helping hand was Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. She stationed herself at the doors leading to the clerk’s office to hand out numbers for couples seeking a position in the growing line and to answer questions about required documentation and so on. 

It was not surprising to find Dimitrijevic at the forefront of the activity that night. LGBT equality is one of the issues she’s championed in the decade since she became the youngest woman elected to public office in Milwaukee. Her long list of accomplishments includes spearheading the effort to extend domestic partner benefits for county workers.

Now Dimitrijevic is a candidate in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary to choose a successor for state Rep. Jon Richards in the 19th Assembly District. Richards is stepping down to run for attorney general.

The district includes the East Side, downtown, the Third Ward, Bay View and parts of Riverwest, making it not only one of the state’s most heavily progressive districts but also one that has among the highest concentrations of LGBT constituents.

Dimitrijevic faces three other challengers in the primary — each of them promising in his or her own way. All three have compelling narratives to support their candidacies, and all three hold the progressive, pro-equality values supported by a majority of the district’s residents.

But Dimitrijevic is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, and experience counts more than ever for progressives in Madison. The tea party majority rules the Assembly with an iron fist, and progressives need representatives who know the system well enough to recognize and exploit opportunities to work it. 

Moreover, Dimitrijevic has a proven track record of advocating for the issues of most concern to progressives, including environmental sustainability, public transportation, public education and rights for workers and immigrants (Dimitrijevic is fluent in Spanish). She’s the strongest candidate to replace Richards. We endorse her and expect a great future for her as a progressive leader.

Dimitrijevic’s other endorsements come from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Clean Wisconsin Action and more. To learn more about Dimitrijevic, go to www.votemarina.com.

The other candidates in the race also have drawn prominent endorsements and have promising futures. They’re worth getting to know (in alphabetical order):

Dan Adams, 31, a former Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, is the candidate backed by Abele. Adams is unique in that he expresses a willingness to work with Republicans to ensure that Milwaukee gets its fair share of revenue and attention from Madison. He stresses pragmatism over knee-jerk partisanship.

Adams believes Milwaukee has great potential for developing a knowledge-based economy, and he says he’d work on bringing capital together with the city’s educational institutions to make that happen.

Philosophically, Adams casts himself politically in Abele’s mold: “We have the same outlook on public service — it’s not about the servant. It’s really about carrying the water for the community and not just the very vocal or the very powerful,” Adams says.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Adams signs have become increasingly visible in the district.

For more, go to adamsforassembly.com.

Jonathan Brostoff, 30, is also running a strong campaign. He took leave from his current position as district director for Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson in order to run for the Assembly. In that position, as well as through involvement in managing other campaigns, Brostoff likely knows Wisconsin politics better than any other candidate except Dimitrijevic.

Together with Larson, Brostoff co-founded DemTEAM, which has trained more than 110 progressive Milwaukeeans interested in elected office. Among DemTeam’s success stories are current state Reps. Daniel Reimer, Nikiya Harris and Mandela Barnes.

Brostoff has run a robust campaign that has focused increasingly on education. Like the other candidates in this race, Brostoff says he’ll fight to get better resources for Milwaukee’s public school system. He sees the growing voucher movement as part of the problem.

“I strongly believe that we need to not only not expand vouchers but sunset them here and now,” Brostoff says. “The experiment has played out and it failed. The heart of it is to siphon off public resources into private hands.”

Brostoff, who has a gay older brother, is an ardent equality supporter. The first of many volunteer positions he’s held was with Pathfinders, which provides services to homeless youth. Brostoff began volunteering with the agency at age 14. Among Pathfinders’ clients are relatively large numbers of gay and lesbian youth who are kicked out of their homes by disapproving parents.

Brostoff also has volunteered for many other nonprofits. He says running for office is taking his commitment to his community to the next level. He cites retiring state Rep. Sandy Pasch as the type of leader he hopes to become, and she has endorsed him.

For more, go to votebrostoff.com. 

Sara Geenen, 32, has run the most low-key campaign of the four contenders, primarily because she’s the mother of a 4-year-old and a toddler, as well as a labor union attorney. But she says being a working mother gives her a unique perspective to take with her to Madison. 

“It’s important to have people from every walk of life representing the state, because the state has people from every walk of life,” she says.

Strongly pro-union, Geenen grew up in a union family “with headstrong beliefs in progressive values,” she says. Her endorsements include chapters of the United Steel Workers, the Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists.

Growing income inequality spurred Geenen to run for office, she says, and her campaign has focused on “jobs, education and investing in community.” Geenen sees herself as an advocate for the working poor, people who are unable to move out of poverty because all the rules are stacked against them. As examples, she offers the case of a woman three months’ pregnant who’s already distressed about finding day care for her child or the family forced to live in substandard housing because of their credit score, even though they can afford better housing.

Like the others in the race, Geenen is a deeply committed supporter of equality, quality public schools and the creation of family-supporting jobs.

“I think it’s important that you start to work incrementally to make change,” Geenen says. “It’s important to keep advocating.”

For more, visit sarageenen.com.

Primary day is Aug. 12.

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Wisconsin eyes Everclear, strong liquor ban in 2014

Jeff Wielichowski drowned in his family’s pool two summers ago after drinking a mix of Gatorade, Red Bull and Everclear with some friends.

At 190 proof, or 95 percent alcohol, Everclear packs more than twice the punch of the best-selling brands of whiskey, vodka and gin. And at about $18 per bottle, it has long been a popular ingredient in boozy punches served at parties in and around college campuses.

That may change soon in Wisconsin, where Wielichowski’s mother, Luanne Wielichowski, has channeled her grief into pushing state lawmakers to ban the sale of high-potent liquors like Everclear. A bill that would ban the sale of alcohol that’s 190-proof or higher is gathering bipartisan support in the Legislature and could be voted on early next year.

Luanne Wielichowski said she’s hopeful the bill could be passed in 2014.

“God I hope so. I really, really hope so,” she said. “My son’s not coming back. This is for some other kid that hopefully won’t die because they had this lethal concoction in their body.”

Changes to liquor laws are a tough sell in booze-friendly Wisconsin, which has the third-lowest tax on beer nationwide and a strong alcohol lobby. While support is building for the ban, at least one powerful group is aiming to stop it.

The Wisconsin Grocers Association will likely oppose the bill out of concerns that it would open the door to other products being banned, said the group’s president Brandon Scholz.

“While we are concerned about the few incidences of irresponsible use of this product, we have much greater concerns about the slippery slope that is created with the ban of this product,” Scholz said. “What’s next? Ban all alcohol products? Beer and wine as well?”

The influential Tavern League, which represents Wisconsin’s bar owners, isn’t taking a position on the bill, said lobbyist Scott Stenger.

The Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute, which represents liquor wholesalers in the state, has not discussed the proposal, said Joel Frank, the group’s lobbyist. Frank is also president of Frank Beverage Group, a liquor wholesaler that distributes in Madison and southwestern Wisconsin. He said sales of high-alcohol content liquors like Everclear are minuscule.

“There would be no economic side effects” if the bill passed, Frank said.

The CEO of Luxco, the St. Louis-based company that makes Everclear, declined to comment on the bill.

“We leave it up to the legislature within the state to reach its own conclusions on what might or might not be in the best interests of its citizens,” said company chairman and CEO Donn Lux in an email.

Fifteen other states, including Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, already ban high-potent liquors.

Everclear is sold at both 151 proof, or roughly 75 percent alcohol content, and 190 proof, or 95 percent alcohol content. Most popular hard liquors like gin, vodka, and brandy are sold at around 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol.

Because of its high alcohol content, Everclear is most frequently used as an ingredient in cocktails or punches.

“It has no taste. It’s only purpose is to impair people quickly,” said Julia Sherman, coordinator of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. “We don’t need it on the shelves.”

Rep. AndrΘ Jacque, R-De Pere, is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. He’s working with Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, who circulated an earlier version after being contacted by Wielichowski.

“It’s essentially a poison,” Jacque said of Everclear. “This stuff will mess you up really bad.”

Jacque said he was concerned about young people such as college students and those with less drinking experience being caught off-guard by the potency of Everclear masked by juices or other ingredients.

“It can certainly be very destructive very quickly,” Jacque said.

Frank, the liquor wholesaler, said he understands why some would support a ban, but he said there are also some cocktail recipes that rely on 190 proof alcohol.

“There are legitimate purposes for the product besides what you and I would conceive of as the social ills,” Frank said.

Everclear is described on Luxco’s website as having “tremendous brand recognition and a loyal, near cult-status, following.”

Luanne Wielichowski said she hopes that through her efforts, she will help keep other parents from going through the grief she’s endured since her son died.

“My life is pretty much been in pain ever since,” she said.

Wyoming lawmakers face gay marriage bill

Two Republican lawmakers are supporting proposals to either allow gay marriage or same-sex civil unions in Wyoming.

The Jackson Hole Daily reported this week that state Reps. Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff of Jackson are supporting the proposals from Democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly of Laramie.

“It’s a basic human rights and fairness issue,” Petroff said. “It’s a basic constitutional issue. There should just be no reason why same-sex couples shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else.”

The bills were introduced on Jan. 14.

House Bill 169 would allow gay marriage by changing the state’s definition of marriage to a civil contract between “two natural persons” rather than a contract between “a male and a female person.”

The other measure, House Bill 168, would create civil unions and allow same-sex couples to be treated as spouses under all state rules and laws.

Gingery said the number of gay couples is increasing and their rights aren’t clear under current state law. He said allowing gay marriage would be the best solution because it plugs gay marriage into the state’s existing legal framework for marriage.

Lawmakers have considered bills allowing gay unions three times since 2007 but none of them have passed.

Last year, lawmakers considered but ultimately rejected a proposal that would have barred recognition of out-of-state, same-sex marriages.

The bills would have to win approval from both the House and Senate in order to be able to advance to the governor’s desk.

It’s the first time Gingery has backed a gay marriage proposal, and he thinks the measures could have a chance of passing this year.

He said there are number of new lawmakers, many of whom know gay couples. “It’s hard for anyone to be against gay marriage when there’s a face to it and that face is a friend or relative,” he said.

Community leaders gathering to denounce plan to reduce Milwaukee County Board

Community leaders were expected to gather this morning (Jan. 16) to “denounce the outrageous plan to reduce the Milwaukee County Board,” according to a news release.

The announcement said, “Reducing the county board to part time and eliminating essential support staff is another distraction from the real problems facing Milwaukee County and undermines fiscally responsible management of Milwaukee County taxpayers’ resources.”

The community leaders were expected to call on state lawmakers to work with local officials on job creation and economic development and come up with “real solutions, not partisan games, to create family-sustaining jobs in Milwaukee County.”

The press conference was set for 11 a.m. inside the transit center at Lake Drive and Michigan Avenue in Milwaukee.

Scheduled speakers included Jennifer Epps-Addison of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the Rev. Willie Brisco of Milwaukee Congregations Allied for Hope MICAH, Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces De La Frontera, James Hall of the NAACP, Minister Greg Lewis, Mike Wilder of the African-American Roundtable, Candice Owley of the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers and Nurses and Rosalynn Wolfe of the League of Young Voters.