End of Session Wrap-Up: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When this Legislature began in January of 2011, we knew we had a challenge in front of us.  The session started out with attacks on our natural resources, which continued into the spring 2011 budget process, and lasted until the official end of the legislative session on March 16, 2012.

Throughout this session, we had faith that bipartisanship and the Wisconsin way of doing business would prevail.  While there were a few important instances of great bipartisanship, the session was mostly marked by a lack of compromise and an attempt to derail our natural resources in the name of economic development. At Clean Wisconsin, we know that a healthy environmental creates jobs.  Throughout this two-year session we have worked tirelessly to bring that perspective to the table.

Because of this approach, and through the hard work of many committed advocates, citizens and legislators, we were able to stop some of the most devastating environmental rollbacks from becoming reality. While there were other bills to impact our natural resources during this two year session, Clean Wisconsin focused the attention of our government relations, science, legal, communications, and energy teams as well as the attention of members like you to focus on the following issues

The Good

Maintaining Protective Mining Laws (Spring 2012) – It took a herculean effort to stop the Assembly open pit mine bill, but in the end we were successful! The bill rolled back environmental protections and cut the public out of the mining process.  While Clean Wisconsin is not against mining, we are against changing our laws for the profits of any company, especially an out-of-state company that clearly had no intention of mining responsibly.

Photo Credit: Mario Quintana

Keeping Phosphorus Out of Our Waters (Spring 2011) – We were able to quickly beat back the Governor’s attempt to delay implementation of Wisconsin’s phosphorus rule in his budget bill. Cooler heads prevailed and  key legislators realized that Wisconsin’s phosphorus rules are an innovative and cost-effective way to improve our water quality and prevent rivers, lakes and streams from being choked by algae largely caused by phosphorus discharges.

Recycling Program Saved (Spring 2011) – One of the more surprising attacks this session was on the popular recycling program.  Governor Walker’s budget last year originally proposed cutting all funding for local recycling programs.  The Legislature ultimately restored 60% of the funding, which will still result in cuts, but keeps Wisconsin’s recycling tradition alive.

Statewide Wind Siting Rules (Spring 2011 & 2012) – A year ago, a legislative committee voted to suspend Wisconsin’s uniform, statewide standards for siting wind energy systems, driving several wind companies out of Wisconsin.  Through a major effort by Clean Wisconsin, other advocates, and businesses to educate legislators, that rule was re-instated.  The rule will help lead our state to more development of clean and renewable wind energy rather than continuing to rely on dirty, out-of-state fossil fuels.

Energy efficiency for State Buildings (Spring 2011) – The budget included $100 million for energy efficiency upgrades at state buildings, including the University system.

Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) (Winter 2012) – This bill will enhance opportunities for homeowners and businesses to borrow money to pay for energy improvements, and repay it via a special property assessment. PACE helps property owners get the upfront money to make energy efficient investments.

The Bad

credit: Wonder_al via Flickr creative commons

Fewer Wetlands = More Flooding (Winter 2012) – Two bills took aim at Wisconsin wetland laws this session and were signed into law.  One of the bills provided a special exemption from wetland protections for a parcel of land in Brown County to attract a Bass Pro Shop.  The Legislature then went on to draft another bill that overhauled Wisconsin’s carefully crafted wetland development laws.  By allowing developers to use mitigation as an option of first resort, rather than trying to avoid destroying the wetland, we will undoubtedly see a loss of high quality wetlands that protect our homes from flooding and provide valuable wildlife habitat.

Waterway Permitting (Winter 2012) -While greatly improved from the original bill which made drastic changes to waterway permitting, the final bill stills contains presumptive approval for waterway permits.  Presumptive approval means that if the timeline runs out on the DNR’s permit review, the permit is automatically approved.  It is a bad idea for natural resources protection.

Water Disinfection (Spring 2011) – This law ends the requirement for disinfection of municipal water supplies for virus protection. Without disinfection viruses can linger in public drinking water supplies undetected.

Allowing Canadian Hydroelectricity (Summer 2011) – This law allows Canadian hydroelectricity to qualify for our Renewable Portfolio Standard, likely reducing the amount of renewable energy produced in Wisconsin.

Cuts to Stewardship Program (Spring 2011)– The Stewardship program protects precious lands and open spaces for future generations, and was cut by $26 million in the budget last year.

Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) (Spring 2011) – The budget eliminated the PACE program, which keeps farmland in production and away from development pressure.

The Ugly

Cuts to Focus on Energy (Spring 2011) – The budget cut $320 million from the statewide energy efficiency program that helps residents and businesses lower energy bills. Despite evidence of the program’s success, including a recent audit showing a $2.30 return on each dollar invested, and a push by clean energy businesses, the funding was not restored.

Denying High Speed Rail for Wisconsin (Winter 2011) – Governor Walker turned back $810 million in federal funding to build a high speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. This rail line would have helped reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and promote clean transportation options.

Concentrating Rule-Making Power (Winter 2011) – A new law will give the Governor broad authority over agency rule-making, including the ability to stop a rule from moving forward.  Rules provide the detailed regulations and standards for most environmental laws, and the increased gubernatorial power could lead to more political and partisan decisions on these important environmental standards.

Contributed by Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>