For every $1 million invested in fossil fuels only 3 jobs are created.
At the same time every $1 million invested in clean energy creates 16 jobs.
Walker, GOP reversing green initiatives
Recycling, wind power, energy efforts weakened
Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature have moved quickly to weaken a string of environmental and energy programs as they contend with a budget deficit and make economic development their top priority.
The governor and GOP lawmakers have pushed more than a dozen initiatives that would reverse the course set by Democrats when they held power.
Among the changes:
• Trying to eliminate mandatory requirements for recycling and the subsidies to local government that went with it.
• Weakening the state’s commitment to wind power by making it more difficult for developers to meet siting requirements.
• Canceling a major state contract to burn homegrown biomass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
• Delaying costly water pollution rules to control weed-producing phosphorus in waterways.
The actions have delighted many business interests who say state government has been quick to regulate, but slow to appreciate the needs of business.
Meanwhile, the changes have angered Democrats, environmentalists and those interested in developing an industry built on clean technology.
It’s all underscored the growing divide over environment issues.
“I knew it was going to be bad,” said freshman Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison), a former Sierra Club employee who has emerged as the sharpest Walker critic on environmental issues in the Legislature. “But I didn’t think it was going to be this bad.
“With (former Gov.) Tommy Thompson, you could deal with him, but Scott Walker makes Tommy Thompson look like John Muir.”
But Clint Woods of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that supports free markets and limited government based in Washington, sees it differently.
He said the trend on environmental issues is driven by the weak economy, states’ balance sheets and many voters’ wish to rein in government.
“Wisconsin’s reconsideration of past energy and environmental policies is definitely consistent with the efforts of other state legislatures,” Woods said.
A Gallup poll in March found the widest margin in nearly three decades over Americans’ attitudes on the economy and the environment – with the economy clearly coming out on top.
Gallup found that 54% believed that economic growth should be given priority over the environment, while 36% thought the environment should get more consideration.
“Increasingly, there has been a perception among conservatives and Republicans that environmental regulation is harmful to the economy and a burden on business,” said Michael E. Kraft, a professor of political science and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Despite the Republican majority in the Legislature, some of their agenda won’t become a reality.
Walker’s bid to end mandatory recycling – and the state subsidies that go with it – is apt to be watered down because of resistance, even in his own party.
His plan to roll back 2010 phosphorus rules approved under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has changed in recent weeks, with the Department of Natural Resources saying it will delay implementation for two years.
The rules set limits on phosphorus allowed in waterways – an initiative to clean up lakes and limit algae blooms – and placed the onus on sewage treatment plants and some factories.
Business groups said that costs would have eclipsed the DNR’s estimates of more than $900 million over a decade.
“There is no question that Governor Walker’s administration and this legislature have taken a much more focused look at what our state is doing to create and retain jobs,” said Scott Manley, director of environmental policy at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
The approach was evident during the gubernatorial campaign when Walker derided the DNR as being heavy-handed and pledged to help create 250,000 jobs over the next four years.
Even before becoming governor, Walker moved to block President Barack Obama’s administration’s $810 million funding of high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison, which advocates touted for bolstering the region’s mass transit and helping to link the state’s two largest cities.
One week in office, Walker unveiled a bill he said protected the rights of property owners by lengthening the setback requirements to construct wind turbines – the first of several moves to reverse course on the state’s green-power initiatives.
Walker also has proposed to eliminate the Office of Energy Independence.
Republicans are drafting legislation to shorten the environmental review process for mines in anticipation of Gogebic Taconite’s plan to develop an iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.
The company says the mine could create 700 mining jobs and stimulate more than 2,800 jobs in a 12-county region.
Also, Walker and the Legislature have discussed proposals to lift the ban on construction of nuclear reactors and change the state’s policy on the use of renewable power by letting utilities buy electricity from hydro projects in Canada, rather than relying on homegrown wind, solar and biomass.
And last week, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee eliminated $20 million in additional funding for next year for energy efficiency programs.
The changes haven’t played well in some circles.
“Consumers are going to spend more on their energy bills than they would otherwise,” said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens’ Utility Board, a consumer group. Investment in energy efficiency reduces energy bills over time and creates jobs, he said.
With the state’s wind siting rules in flux, two wind developers canceled plans this spring to build large wind farms in Brown and Calumet counties.
Also, Madison-based Alliant Energy Corp. took a $5 million charge against earnings last week because of the siting rules, canceling a project in Green Lake and Fond du Lac counties.
Critics say Wisconsin is risking the loss of tapping into the growing clean-energy industry.
Art Harrington, lawyer at Godfrey & Kahn in Milwaukee, said the state now lacks an overarching policy to help champion clean technology
“I think of it as a missed opportunity,” he said
But the Walker administration’s Chris Schoenherr said the state needs a more balanced energy policy.
“Clearly for this administration, it comes down to jobs,” said Schoenherr, a former utility lobbyist who runs the state Division of Energy Services.
“We want to create jobs of all colors and not create green jobs to the exclusion of all others.”