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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

Walker wants $250,000 to duplicate wind energy study because he didn’t like the findings

There’s a proposed item in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget that would waste $250,000 to have the Public Service Commission study the health effects of wind turbines. His transparent intention is to continue stalling on Wisconsin’s development of this renewable energy source, which is opposed by the real-estate sector and producers of dirty energy, including Koch Industries and Exon Mobil. Those industries have bestowed Walker with beaucoup bucks, and, as he’s proven time and again, he’s not about to let the state do anything counter to their interests on his watch — not even for the best interests of Wisconsinites.

If wind energy did indeed present a health hazard for humans, the world would be well aware of it by now. Wind energy is the second fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the world — behind only solar, Wind has contributed to increasing energy independence and job growth throughout Europe and Asia over the past decade. It’s also led to falling energy costs in nations such as Germany, where 31 percent of energy during the first half of last year came from wind, solar and hydro.

Neighboring Iowa generated 27.4 of its electricity from wind in 2013. The state continues to expand its wind energy program, with no reports of health problems that we could find.

But there’s even stronger evidence that wind energy is harmless, and Walker is well aware of it. Five years ago, 13 Wisconsinites from all sectors were appointed to the state’s Wind Siting Council. The council reviewed over 50 different scientific studies and found no evidence to support the contention of Walker and his shills that wind turbines are hazardous to human health. The only studies used by the council were those that had appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The findings of the Wind Siting Council, presented to the Legislature in October 2014, should have marked the end of the story for wind energy deniers.

The $250,000 Walker wants to spend to duplicate a conclusive study on a topic that has long since been settled elsewhere could be used in many other productive ways.  The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters suggests that the money could go to programs that contribute to conservation, clean energy, or monitoring the pollution and contamination that we know are caused by the forms of energy that Walker favors.

The absurdity of Walker throwing away taxpayer money to hold up the production of clean energy due to public health concerns is laughable. Walker has never met a polluter he didn’t like. His environmental policies are extremely hazardous to public safety, including the relaxation of regulations for polluters, construction of the nation’s largest tar sand crude pipeline, which flows under every major waterway in the state, and revamping the permitting process to make it easier for operators of open pit mines to get approval without public input — just for starters.

This is not a partisan issue. Renewable energy is essential to keeping Wisconsin in the game, and the hypocrisy Walker shows toward it should offend every citizen who expects our leaders to do what’s best for us over the interests of their benefactors or in the interests of their political aspirations.

Of course, the Public Service Commission, which is dominated by Walker appointees, might just come up with findings that conveniently differ from all the scholarly studies on the subject. If that should occur, we hope that Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the sham for what it is.

Massive clean energy project would light homes in Southern California with wind from Wyoming’s plains

While Wisconsin’s Republican leadership continues to thwart efforts to create a clean-energy infrastructure in the state, an alliance of four companies has proposed an $8 billion project that within a decade could send wind power generated on the plains of Wyoming to households in Southern California.

If approved and financed, the sprawling venture would produce clean power equivalent to the output of a large nuclear power plant by creating one of the country’s largest wind farms near Cheyenne, a huge energy storage site inside Utah caverns and a 525-mile electric transmission line connecting them.

“This would certainly be one of the most ambitious and expensive energy infrastructure projects we have seen,” said Travis Miller, an industry analyst for investment research giant Morningstar Inc. “Energy storage, paired with renewable energy, has been the holy grail of utilities and energy companies.”

Jeff Meyer of Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, one of the companies behind the plan, described it as “the 21st century’s Hoover Dam,” referring to the 726-foot high span across the Colorado River that for decades has produced hydroelectric power for Nevada, Arizona, and California.

The announcement came on the same day that President Barack Obama pressed world leaders to follow the United States’ lead on climate change in a one-day United Nations summit aimed to gather support for a climate change treaty to reduce heat-trapping pollution.

The new proposal, with a tentative completion date of 2023, would potentially generate twice as much energy as the 1930s-era dam. Success hinges on a string of uncertainties, including clearing government regulatory hurdles and striking agreements to sell the power that would be essential to secure financing.

With potential shifts in government policy, environmental regulation and the economics of producing green power “any infrastructure project that looks out nine, ten years, has a lot of uncertainties,” Miller, the analyst, said.

Pathfinder Energy, Magnum Energy, Dresser-Rand and Duke-American Transmission Co. said in a statement they plan to submit the blueprint to the Southern California Public Power Authority by early 2015.

California agency officials said they were unaware of the proposal. The authority has been seeking proposals to supply the Los Angeles region with renewable power required under state law.

The new plan “would be competing with 200 other proposals,” said Steven Homer, the director of project management for the authority, whose members deliver electricity to approximately 2 million customers.

Wind development in Wyoming’s wide expanses has surged in the past decade as companies and state officials seek cleaner alternatives to coal.

The proposed wind power development near Chugwater would be a boon to the sleepy ranching town of 216 residents nestled below sandstone bluffs on the high prairie.

A decade ago, in a desperate bid to revive their economically depressed community, town officials sold city lots for $100 apiece on the condition that the buyer would build a house and live there at least two years. Results were mixed, at best: Chugwater’s population dropped 11 percent from 2000 to 2012, even as Wyoming’s overall economy grew and population increased.

If completed, it would become Wyoming’s second-largest wind power project. The biggest is a 1,000-turbine site planned by The Anschutz Corp. That project near Saratoga, in south-central Wyoming, is the largest under development in the U.S.

The rapid growth in wind power has come with a cost, however. The U.S. government estimates at least 85 eagles are killed each year by wind turbines. An Associated Press investigation in 2013 revealed that the Obama administration was not prosecuting wind energy companies for killing eagles and other protected birds.

A lynchpin in the plan would be a $1.5 billion energy storage site near Delta, Utah, 130 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The rural area already is home to one coal-powered plant that generates electricity for Los Angeles County.

With the push for pollution-free energy sources that can help reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, billions of dollars have been invested in wind and solar projects. Finding an economical way to store renewable energy, however, has been a key issue.

Under the proposal, the energy would be stored through a compressed-air system using caverns, similar to a system that has been used in Alabama since the early 1990s. When energy demand is low, excess electricity would be used to compress and inject high-pressure air into the four caverns, each of which would have 41 million cubic feet of volume. At times of high energy demand, the high-pressure air would be combined with a small amount of natural gas to power eight electricity-producing generators.

As Wisconsin tries to kill clean energy, Indiana announces development of two massive solar farms

While WE Energies and Madison Gas and Electric are trying to discourage the use of solar and wind energy in Wisconsin through high fees, Indiana is planning to build two new solar farms, including a very large one on the grounds of Indianapolis International Airport.

A developer will lease about 76 acres along the airport’s main entrance road off Interstate 70 to erect about 37,500 panels. An electric utility is planning a smaller solar farm near the northern Indiana city of Peru.

The airport project is estimated to cost between $20 million and $25 million, Indy Airport Solar Partners president Kurt Schneider told The Indianapolis Business Journal. The company runs the 44,000-panel solar farm that was completed at the airport last year.

Work already is underway to prepare the site, and it could be completed by the end of this year, Schneider said. The developer has an agreement to sell the electricity to Indianapolis Power & Light Co.

“What makes this one unique is that the panels will be able to track the sun,” Schneider said. “It will increase production by 15 percent.”

The combined farms there likely will make up the largest airport-based solar field in the country, and will generate enough energy to power about 3,150 homes a year, Schneider said.

The Indiana Municipal Power Association, meanwhile, is planning its fourth solar farm in the state, with the new one set for near the Miami County city of Peru with almost 3,900 panels. This week, the Miami County Council approved a 10-year property tax abatement on the project, which is expected to start producing electricity by next summer, the Kokomo Tribune reported.

Indiana Municipal is the wholesale power provider for 59 Indiana communities and also operates solar farms in Richmond, Rensselaer and Frankton.

Wisconsin lags

Like Indiana, Iowa and Illinois are also far more advanced in clean energy development than Wisconsin is.

An Iowa Supreme Court ruling in July permits solar energy companies to sell power directly to customers. The decision was hailed as a big boost to renewable energy in the state.

Iowa is already one of the leaders among U.S. states in wind-power generation. In 2013, 27.4 percent of the state’s electricity generation came from the wind.

The ruling on solar energy will expedite the adoption of rooftop solar power generating systems in Iowa, particularly by cities, schools and nonprofit groups, according to The Associated Press. The result will be to lower users’ energy costs and damage to the environment.

The ruling put Iowa in line with about two dozen other states that allow so-called power purchase agreements.

Illinois is also a leader in wind energy production and equipment manufacturing. The state ranks fourth for the number of utility-scale wind turbines, although less than 5 percent of the state’s electricity was produced by wind in 2013.

A recently passed law in Illinois requires the Illinois Power Agency, which procures electricity for utility customers, to buy up to $30 million in electricity from clean sources. The law passed with broad bipartisan support.

In Wisconsin, however, an effort is currently underway by WE Energies and Madison Gas & Electric to impose prohibitive fees on solar panel users in order to discourage the growth of clean energy. The utilities have threatened they will have to increase rates for all users if they lose income due to competition from clean energy.

Wisconsin Energy Corporation earned $546 million in profit during 2012 and the company’s chairman and CEO Gale Klappa earned $13.1 million in personal compensation that year.

But in September 2013, Klapp told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that consumers are getting him and other WE Energies’ employees at a bargain-basement rate. The top seven executives at the regional monopoly earned a combined $22.5 million in direct compensation during 2012. Overall compensation, including option awards, totaled $33.75 million for the group, according to the Milwaukee Business Journal.

WE Energies hasn’t explained why permitting an expansion of clean energy in the state would destroy the finances of one of the nation’s most profitable utility company’s. Officials will have the chance to explain their reasoning at Public Service Commission meetings in early October.

Gov. Scott Walker, a staunch opponent of clean energy who is heavily financed by the fossil fuel industry, appointed two of the commission’s three members. Ties between the commission and the Walker administration are quite direct. The commission’s communication chair, for example, formerly served as deputy communications director of Friends of Scott Walker.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Bird conservancy sues feds over eagle kill rule

American Bird Conservancy has filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Department of the Interior, alleging multiple violations of federal law in connection with the agency’s regulation that allows wind energy companies and others to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles without risking prosecution.

In April, the environmental group notified DOI and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to sue, citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other statutes in connection with the new eagle kill rule.

“Eagles are among our nation’s most iconic and cherished birds. They do not have to be sacrificed for the next 30 years for the sake of unconstrained wind energy,” said Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Program. “Giving wind companies a 30-year pass to kill bald and golden eagles without knowing how it might affect their populations is a reckless and irresponsible gamble that millions of Americans are unwilling to take.”

The previous rule, adopted in 2009, provided for a maximum duration of five years for each permit to kill eagles. According to a statement issued at that time by FWS in the Federal Register, a permit of any longer duration “would be incompatible with the preservation of the bald or golden eagle.”

But four years later, DOI has increased by six-fold the time during which eagles could be killed.

ABC believes wind energy and other renewable energy sources can be encouraged without putting eagles at risk.

Hutchins said, “In the government’s rush to expand wind energy, shortcuts were taken in implementing this rule that should not have been allowed. We understand that some bird mortality is inevitable. However, in this case, long-term, cumulative impacts to eagle populations were not properly assessed, and the 30-year take permit rule was adopted in the absence of the required NEPA analysis concerning impacts on eagle populations or any other species that share the eagles’ range.”

“The recovery of bald eagle populations is an FWS success story — an example of how a species’ population, with enough time and resources, can be brought around,” added Hutchins. “Americans take pride in the fact that bald eagles are once again a common sight in many places across the country. Their popularity and symbolic importance suggests that the American people are not going to tolerate the deaths of many to wind turbines.”

In 2009, 22,000 wind turbines were in operation in the United States, representing 25 gigawatts of installed capacity — a small fraction of the 300GW of production capacity needed to meet the 2030 federal goal of generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable energy.

By 2030, wind energy project growth is expected to impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat  — an area larger than the combined areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island — and more than 4,000 square miles of marine habitat, some of this critical to threatened and other protected species.

Why Scott Walker killed wind energy jobs in Wisconsin

When Wisconsin voters elected Scott Walker governor and handed Republicans control of the Legislature, about 1,000 new jobs in the emerging wind energy sector stood waiting on the state’s horizon, according to industry proponents.

But Walker, who received at least $1.5 million in campaign cash directly from interests opposed to wind energy and much more indirectly, quickly quashed the rules that would have allowed those jobs – and the state’s energy independence – to move forward.

Walker’s move reportedly startled wind-energy supporters on both sides of the political aisle, since the so-called “wind siting” rules were ironed out during a year of negotiations with all the major stakeholders and approved by a two-thirds, bipartisan majority of lawmakers during the legislative session immediately preceding the state’s GOP takeover.

Now, with Wisconsin recording the second largest job losses in the nation from May to October 2011, Democrats say the governor, who announced in January that “Wisconsin is open for business,” should explain to voters why he abruptly closed the state to the potentially lucrative wind energy business.  A total of five wind energy companies have suspended or canceled work in Wisconsin since Walker took action to cripple the industry in the state, according to industry representatives.

State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said he’s particularly disturbed by the Republicans’ reversal on wind energy because it’s one of the few areas of prospective economic development where “the state would not invest any money and could be putting hundreds, possibly thousands of people to work almost immediately.”

Environmentalists charge that the governor has lifted regulations protecting Wisconsin’s wetlands and waterways in order to give free reign to corporate polluters in the name of job creation. They say the Walker administration is currently trying to fast track a hugely controversial mining bill that would jeopardize the state’s groundwater quality.

So why, they ask, is he so concerned about the safety of wind farms, which are operating successfully all over the globe?

“Gov. Walker and his allies in the Legislature are once again bowing to the special interests at the expense of Wisconsin families,” said Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. “Wisconsin sends more than $850 million out of state every year to places like Indiana, Wyoming, and Illinois to purchase coal. Wind energy, on the other hand, creates homegrown jobs in manufacturing, construction, and other industries right here in Wisconsin. Reinstating Wisconsin’s wind siting rules could bring back the $1.8 billion in new wind power investments that Gov. Walker chased out of the state.”

3,000 jobs

Wind energy is considered one of the major industries of the future. Both clean and renewable, it’s the fastest growing source of electricity in the world. Experts estimate it will provide about one-third of the world’s electricity by 2050.

Last year, wind powered 26 percent of all new electrical capacity in the United States, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Investors in wind energy viewed Wisconsin as a state with great potential for development. Neighboring Iowa and Illinois are national leaders in the field. Through April of this year, Iowa generated 20 percent of its electricity from wind, according to AWEA statistics. Meanwhile, Illinois ranks fifth for overall installed wind capacity in the United States.

A resource assessment conducted by the National Renewable Energy Lab found that Wisconsin’s wind resources could provide over four times the state’s current electricity needs. Wind energy supported as many as 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state during 2010 and generated $900,000 in annual property tax payments as well as $1.4 million in lease payments.

At least 22 facilities in Wisconsin manufacture components for the wind energy industry, and another 171 related supply chain businesses have been established in the state.

Walker’s change of heart toward wind energy put a halt to future growth of this kind. It also provoked two major wind energy developers to pull out of the state, canceling more than $1 billion in investment and about 1,000 new jobs, according to the group Renew Wisconsin.

Invenergy, a Chicago-based company, announced in March that it was canceling the Ledge Wind Energy center, a 100-turbine facility proposed for Brown County, due to the GOP’s refusal to go forward with the compromise wind siting rules. Shortly afterward, Midwest Wind Energy, also based in Chicago, said it was suspending a 75-turbine wind farm that had been under development for four years.

Follow the money

Early opponents to wind energy said the turbines, which look like giant airplane propellers on a stick, are ugly and noisy. They also complained that the blades kill birds and bats, although cars, high-rise buildings and power lines destroy far more animals, according to experts.

But some new opposition voices have recently crept into the debate. A growing number of anti-wind bloggers now contend that undetectable vibrations caused by the spinning of turbine blades can cause health problems – a claim that’s without medical foundation or support.

They also complain about something called “shadow flicker.” When the sun is in a position where rays glance off the spinning blades, it creates a flickering of light similar to that caused by leaves rustling in a summer breeze. Critics insist this scattering of light is a public nuisance.

Wisconsin law only allows for objections to be raised over wind projects if they pose a threat to public health or safety. Proponents of wind energy believe that these new complaints are part of a carefully coordinated strategy to position wind farms as dangerous in ways that the law covers. While proponents credit critics for using their imagination, they laugh at the absurdity of their claims.

So who and what are really behind the new opposition? Wind proponents believe the answer lies in Walker’s campaign finance records.

Records compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show Walker received $750,833 in campaign contributions from the construction industry and $427,629 from Realtors through Oct. 18, 2010. Both industries oppose wind energy projects out of fear they’ll harm the value of properties located nearby, in the same way that the presence of a nearby railroad track, highway or airport reduces property values.

“I’m not seeing evidence to that effect,” Barca said of critics’ fears that nearby wind farms reduce property values. According to him, the Legislature took property values into consideration when it created the approved wind siting rules. Those rules require turbines to be placed at least 1,250 feet away from an occupied building – a distance that was arrived at through lengthy negotiations with all the major stakeholders, Barca said.

Walker was able to stop the rules by introducing a bill to increase the distance of the so-called “setbacks.”

The oil, coal and gas industries also contributed heavily to Walker – a total of $127,693, according to WDC. Those industries oppose wind energy for the obvious reason that it threatens to take away some of their market share.

Koch Industries, a fossil fuel company that’s grown into one of the nation’s largest private companies, is both one of Walker’s leading financial backers and one of the world’s leading opponents of green energy. The Industrial Wind Action Group, which hosts a website that disseminates negative and outright false information about wind energy, routinely quotes as “experts” affiliates of various front groups supported by Koch Industries, Charles Koch and the Koch family.

According to a press release for the documentary film “Greedy Lying Bastards,” scheduled for release next year, Koch Industries and Exxon Oil have each spent nearly $25 million to undermine the science of global warming. Wind energy has been embraced by environmentalists as a way to slow down climate change.

According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings cited in a report that appeared in February in Mother Jones magazine, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election – the campaign’s second-highest contribution.

But the Kochs’ influence in the campaign was far greater than that number suggests. Their PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent a remarkable $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s 2010 opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Political issue

During the Legislature’s recent and unsuccessful special jobs session, Barca and other Democrats tried to push forward the wind siting rules as a job-growth measure, but to no avail. In frustration, Barca penned an opinion piece that charged, “Under Gov. Walker, Wisconsin continues to underperform the national economy, yet Republicans continue to push an agenda that sends our jobs out of state.”

Republicans have until March to make changes on the wind-siting rules. If no changes are made, then the rules will go into effect as they were originally approved.

But the GOP has two bills sitting in legislative committees that are designed to kill the original rules and force the state to start the lengthy process of creating siting rules all over again. That would effectively shut down wind energy development in Wisconsin for years while other states continue to forge ahead.

One of the bills was introduced by state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-Ledgeview, who is considering a U.S. Senate run. Lasee’s call for a moratorium on wind energy in the state positions him to receive big money from Koch front groups and other monied players in the fossil fuel industry.

While several other Republicans are expected to join the race, the only announced Democrat so far is out U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s stance against wind energy, while popular with its rich  backers, could prove unpopular with voters as a political issue. Ahead of Walker’s anticipated recall race, Barca and other Democrats are promoting awareness of the governor’s self-inflicted loss of wind energy and high-speed rail jobs. Ultimately voters will decide whether Walker has cost the state jobs in order to pay back his financial benefactors.