Friday, November 27, 2015

Wisconsin again leads news of failed water stewardship

As I've been writing and noting, Wisconsin's intentionally dismissive approach to water quality and management is drawing media attention:
After years of watching their state do little to address stormwater runoff, polluted wells, and noxious algae blooms in once clear waters, 16 Wisconsin citizens last month decided enough was enough. They filed a petition with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to force Wisconsin to correct failures in its clean water program or else take away Wisconsin’s authority to administer permits under the Clean Water Act. 
It is a step of last resort expressing an utter lack of confidence in the state government’s ability and desire to protect its waterways. 
The past two decades have seen the dismantling of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the state agency in charge of issuing and enforcing clean water regulations, according to Kim Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. The agency’s workforce has declined 18 percent since 1995. Last summer Republican Governor Scott Walker abolished the agency’s water division and its Bureau of Science Services while eliminating 18 staff positions.

Wisconsin open for business, on the quick and dirty

Quick, dirty, minimal and cheap.

It's new Wisconsin Idea, as Republican policy-makers have come up with yet another way of screwing working people and the environment at the same time while evading basic governing and public policy stewardship.

And this fake, small government trifecta, this latest iteration of cynical cold-hearted policy-making in our name has such a cynical twist:

The very conservatives who claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility and allegedly detest federal funding and have rejected if it were to fund more health care coverage for low-income citizens, or broadband upgrades in the information age, of for Amtrak construction are eager to get as much federal highway money but use it as a cudgel against the abutting environment and the very highway workers out there in the heat or the cold who driving the machines or laying the concrete.

That is some nasty bill-drafting and rule-tinkering, let me tell you.

Not content with passing the public-sector wage-limiting Act 10 or its companion, 'right-to-work' law aimed at private sector workers - - and scrapping the long-standing family-supporting "prevailing wage" guarantees for workers on local government road and public building projects - - and easing clean water, wetlands, shoreline preservation and related environmental protections in the state that gave birth to Earth Day - - GOP legislators now want to tinker with and shortcut some formulas and policies to minimize or end environmental protections and wage guarantees now required in big, federally-funded road projects, the Journal Sentinel reports:

The bill by Sen. Duey Stroebel and Rep. Robert Brooks, both Saukville Republicans, would require the state to rejigger how it allocates the federal road funding it receives so that some projects would not have to adhere to federal requirements. Total funding for roads would remain unchanged, but for some projects federal money would be supplanted by state or local money. 
Others would have more federal money — and less local and state money — assigned to them. 
By channeling federal aid into fewer projects, some road work would not have to follow federal policies that are more stringent and costly than state rules. That includes a federal law that sets a minimum pay for those building roads.
This is more than legislators shifting the burden for poor budgeting and special interest obeisance to  workers and the environment we all share pay while repeatedly approving dubious and unaffordable billion-dollar commitments to finance I-39/90 expansion from Beloit to the Dells, or eight-years of planned work in the mammoth Zoo Interchange and also to widen I-94 from Kenosha to Milwaukee without the money or a sustainable financing plan in hand.

This monkeying with road-building-and-financing rules and procedures is another example of this administration's intentional, ideologically-driven preference for quick-and-dirty over common resource protections that ensure public health and safety.

* One of Walker's first administrative actions after being sworn in as Governor was the suspension of an on-going permit review for a development planned by a campaign donor to build a building on a wetland next to Lambeau Field. The Legislature aligned with the Governor also quickly passed a bill to green light the development.

*  This is the same do-the-minimum mindset that has led the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources where Walker installed top managers with a "chamber of commerce mentality" to limit detailed environmental reviews on the proposed expansion of the tar sand oil Pipeline 61 capacity expansion from Superior to the Illinois border to a single pumping station expansion permit application rather than on the pipeline cross-state route.

* The is the same mentality that created the sweetheart iron mining bill approved by the GOP-led legislature with the encouragement of Gov. Walker that would have enabled the creation, through a fast-tracked environmental review tilted towards the company, of the hemisphere's largest open-pit iron mine deeply excavated for miles through the sensitive Penokee Hills/Bad River watershed near Lake Superior.

A drop in demand for iron ore worldwide, plus federal and tribal obstacles beyond the reach of the newly-weakened Wisconsin iron-mining statute, convinced the company to drop the project, but the one-sided law is still on the books.

Wisconsin legislators have found yet another way to twist law and policy - - this time to manipulate road-building finances instead of fixing the way they approve and fund big projects - - and are less interested if nearby rivers or wetlands or private properties are damaged by dirty air or polluted runoff, or if the roadwork work is done by employees with reduced training or skills, or with hammered take-home pay.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Warming climate melting America's glaciers

So much news lately about the warming climate - - no doubt prompted by the upcoming world climate summit beginning in a few days in Paris - - but this story is infuriating and heartbreaking, as these magnificent glacial are essential stores of water, too:
This crescent-shaped glacier in Montana’s northern Rockies had been contracting for decades because of warming temperatures. Lately it has been shrinking at a breathtaking clip, losing as much as a 10th of its mass in a single year. As early as 2030, scientists say, it may no longer exist. 
The glacier’s steep decline mirrors that of hundreds of other U.S. glaciers, from California’s Sierra Nevada to the North Cascades to the Central Alaska Range. All are in retreat, yet nowhere are the effects so profoundly felt as here in Glacier National Park, which experts say could be glacier-free by mid-century. 
“They’ll be gone in a few decades,” said Dan Fagre, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey who monitors the park’s 25 remaining glaciers and plots each year’s losses. “Every year exposes rock that hasn’t seen daylight in centuries.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Desultory WisDOT complex to feature lots of parking, right angles

Back in the day, public buildings were designed to please the eye and last for a hundred years or more.

Not so at Hilldale on Madison's West side, where WisDOT and other state agencies' new buildings are being combined with a seven-story parking ramp.

Pesky facts debunk alleged climate warming 'pause'

The only thing that's cooling is the far-right's embrace of science, The Washington Post reports:
Even as Lamar Smith (R-Tx.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, continues to investigate a high profile study from federal scientists debunking the idea of a global warming slowdown or “pause,” a new study reaches the same conclusion — in a different yet complementary way.
“There is no substantive evidence for a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ in warming,” write Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor at the University of Bristol in the UK, and two colleagues in Tuesday’s Nature Scientific Reports. “We suggest that the use of those terms is therefore inaccurate.”

No doubt mistaken for deer

Two sandhill cranes were illegally shot and killed in a Wisconsin nature preserve. The fine is $303.30 per bird; additional charges could be filed, authorities say.

Not the first illegal crane kill in recent years here.

Remember the whooper that was among one renegade hunter's takings?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An argument in favor of continuing wolf hunt ban

The Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin blog is carrying a new post that argues against lifting the current federal ban on grey wolf hunting in several states that suspended the controversial Wisconsin wolf hunt following last year's 'harvest.'
Wolves must remain under federal protection until individual states, such as Wisconsin, can learn how to protect an iconic species. Scientists have just begun to understand how essential wolves are to maintaining healthy ecosystems. 
Hunting wolves as a management tool only serves special interest groups bent on eradication. 
Wisconsin is killing its wolves
Here is an additional post that supports the allegation that Wisconsin's wolf hunting (dogs allowed, only in Wisconsin) and permissible hound training laws and practices were among the most cruel:
You might also want to read up on various baiting and hunting training methods allowed by state law in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Licenses, Tolerates Wildlife Cruelty 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The only thing that stops a bad guy twisting the law...

Are good attorneys...
Cullen Weston Pines & Bach (CWPB) 
...this time winning at the federal appellate level and blocking the Walker machine's scheme to shut down Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinics and deny to women their vital and legal medical services.

And I say "this time" because nearly three years ago to the day, the Capital Times said:
Attorney Lester Pines racks up impressive wins against GOP agenda

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Important that the climate summit happens in Paris

It's reassuring that the world summit on climate change scheduled to begin at the end of the month in Paris will be held as scheduled - - minus one large citizen march - - despite the horrifying atrocities which struck the city and continue to stretch French security resources.

Here is an official website with links and portals to more information.

Postponing the conference would be a win for terrorism; a successful program will be good for the planet and prove that Paris can survive a crisis and manage continuing threats and host a world-class event.

Another report about Wisconsinites denied clean drinking water

The Center for Investigation Reporting continues a run of important stories about the state's troubled waters with yet another piece about Wisconsin residents who  - - in this the year 2015 - - do not have access to safe drinking water.  Here's the latest with a Sauk City dateline:
The source of the contamination: the now-closed Badger Army Ammunition Plant.
Badger was a military installation built in 1942 on more than 7,000 acres near Baraboo…
During its operation, the plant pumped excess chemicals and millions of gallons of wastewater into Lake Wisconsin and burned toxic substances in large pits on the site, leaving the soil, surface and groundwater contaminated with a dangerous stew of chemicals, including some known or likely to cause cancer... 
While the land is being redeveloped for recreation, dairy research and tribal uses, the groundwater under the Badger site remains polluted.
Another summary dealing with various Wisconsin water issues, here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Remember Lake Erie's algae poisoning? Well, follow the manure

It was and is a crisis, and taxpayers are enabling it, says this report:

 - a report that takes an unprecedented look at the relationship between the manure load from factory farms in the Western Lake Erie Watershed (WLEW) and the federal subsidies that have poured into the region to facilities that generate that waste over the last seven years. 
Between 2008 and 2015, U.S. Department of Agriculture direct payments, cost‐ shares and other conservation subsidies to owners of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) totaled more than $16.8 million in the WLEW, which includes Ohio, southern Michigan and eastern Indiana.
This report shows that millions of dollars in taxpayer funds continued to be disbursed, even as phosphorus contamination levels in the WLEW climbed and CAFOs in the watershed were fined for illegal waste discharges.

Groundwater, a WI concern, also being drained in in the US plains

We've been both reporting and distributing information about the supply, quality and regulatory issues surrounding groundwater in Wisconsin, but note in this report from the US Great Plains that it's a widespread US problem:
Using current trends in water usage as a guide, the researchers estimate that 3 percent of the aquifer's water was used up by 1960; 30 percent of the aquifer's water was drained by 2010; and a whopping 69 percent of the reservoir will likely be tapped by 2060. It would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer, Steward added.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Milwaukee County Board flushes away river improvement, funding

That sound of water running surrounding the Milwaukee County Board's decision preserving the broken obstruction known as the Estabrook Dam and deciding against letting the Milwaukee River flow naturally to Lake Michigan is more taxpayer money being flushed down the drain.

Think of it this way:

Suppose for years you've known you have an obstruction in your windpipe that is causing you all sorts of problems.

The doctor says the obstruction can be removed and your overall health will improve, but you opt for having the doctor implant alongside an artificial supplemental windpipe and reinforce the obstruction - - all at twice the cost but paid for by someone else.

Bad medicine does not good management make.

And at WEDC, the taxpayers' meter keeps running

You can add a lot of lawyers' time to the mounting costs to taxpayers of ineptitude and carefree politicization at the WEDC.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hope for saving water, crops in WI and other ag states

For some years and also in recent days this blog has focused on the damage being done to Wisconsin waters, a crucial publicly-held finite resource.

Now comes some good news: UW-Madison researchers say that modest changes in some agricultural land use and rain gardens in urban areas can save large amounts of groundwater:
…reducing the amount of cropland to below 60 percent [on some parclels] or restoring wetlands to above six percent of a given area could bring about significant improvements to surface water quality...[the researchers] aren't calling for slashing cornfields or removing city blocks. 
Instead, they say it is possible to get big gains in freshwater benefits by making small changes in targeted places, such as adding rain gardens or parks to urban areas.
Separately, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sent out this information in advance of a report release Thursday on water preservation initiatives:
Move to Resilient “Cover Crop” Soil Conservation Needed After Farmers in Top 10 Ag States Lost More than $25 Billion in Crops Over 5 Years Due to Extreme Weather.

MADISON, WI – The Natural Resources Defense Council will unveil a major new report detailing how farmers in Wisconsin and America’s other top nine agriculture states would eliminate tons of carbon pollution from the air, significantly cut crop losses, and prevent the loss of hundreds of billions of gallons of water by shifting to more climate-resilient soil conservation methods. 


Release of NRDC report, “Climate-Ready Soil:  How cover crops can make Farms more resilient to Extreme weather risks.”  The report includes specific data for Wisconsin and the nation’s top nine farming states: California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, and Indiana. In the last five years, farmers in those states have lost in excess of $25 billion in crops due to drought, heat, hot wind, extreme rainfall, flooding, and other related impacts.


THURSDAY (November 19, 2015) at 1 p.m. CT.

MEDIA CONTACT: Reporters can contact Max Karlin, The Hastings Group,, (703) 276-3255. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wisconsin groundwater battle explained

I'd noted all weekend the growing number of detailed media reports about the expanding battle over water use and rights in Wisconsin, so want to add to that archive an interesting legal analysis, here:
boat on sand
Wisconsin’s waters have been protected since before it was a state. The concept of the public trust doctrine, or the state holding navigable waters in trust so they remain forever free and open to the public, was passed down from the Northwest Ordinance to the Wisconsin Constitution, article IX, section 1.1 State statutes have since been crafted to protect Wisconsin’s groundwater and surface water and to give the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) primary responsibility for overseeing this resource. 
But Wisconsin’s waters are facing a threat: they are being dried from the bottom up. As high-capacity wells proliferate in Wisconsin, water in groundwater-fed streams and lakes is being diverted to these wells beneath the surface, reducing surface water levels and stream flows. 
Add into the equation the diminution of the state's historic forestry industries, and a sell-off of timberland for water-hogging enterprises like golf courses and industrial-scale farm animal feeding operations, and you can see why the number of high-capacity wells in Wisconsin is exploding - - thousands added in the last few years and another 125 new such wells applied for in just the last 36 weeks, DNR data show.

And, by the way, we really miss the Office of the Public Intervenor in Wisconsin which then-Governor Tommy Thompson dismantled that had been created on a bi-partisan basis to serve citizens facing environmental harm. The takeaway:

It's easy to kill programs and harder-to-impossible to revive them, as we are going to re-learn in Wisconsin in the decades ahead.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Next WI right-wing legislative target - - Smart Growth

[Updated from 12:02 p.m.] A Wednesday morning state senate hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison on a bill could be the beginning of the end of fifteen years of fully-open, rational and publicly-spirited local planning in Wisconsin, according to this alert from 1000 Friends of Wisconsin:
Please contact your legislators and tell them you support Wisconsin’s Smart Growth Comprehensive Planning law that guarantees local planning will be locally driven.
If the bill joins a long litany of recent measures favoring corporate interests, then get ready to see land in your town or at the border which you assumed was intended for school expansion, housing, recreation or conservancy get fast-tracked behind closed doors and wired approvals for an insecticide factory, hog feeding operation, trucking depot or big box cluster - - and there could be little you could do about it, because:

*  You've been cut out of current planning processes - - by the bill that is getting a hearing this week.

*  The same special interests which control legislative maneuvers like the one to repeal Smart Growth and wreak other havoc also have the administrative rules processes, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Chief Justiceship under their control, so various petitions and appeals and even lawsuits to prevent or undo reckless, undemocratic planning will be less likely to succeed.

Turning exceptionalism into exclusionism

Republican governors, including Wisconsin's Walker, want to stand in the way and and blockade immigrants fleeing the very terror that ravaged parts of Paris.

Have these officials forgotten that the French gave the immigrant-welcoming Statue of Liberty to the American people?

Do they know that that American history does not honor intolerant Governors who stood in doorways and obstructed the powerless?

Let's be honest: this is a partisan way to bash Obama.

Saving Monarch butterflies to get federal support

The federal grants should help farmers and other activists like the good folks trying to save Monarch butterfly habitat at the Milwaukee County grounds...

...and get the Monarchs' sole food - - milkweed - - replanted in useful supply.

Everyone else: quit applying Roundup and other herbicides that are killing off milkweed, depleting the Monarchs' numbers and wrecking the bee population, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Locking down WI takes another right turn

[Updated] The right is continuing to expand its power in Wisconsin:

*  The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and GOP Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel are backing a move before the right-tilted State Supreme Court that is designed to weaken the independence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and transfer key policy and rule-making responsibilities from that office to the Governor- - joining other ideological power grabs, including:

*  Passing pro-business wetlands, shoreline and groundwater control and development policies that minimize public input and water/resource access, check, 

*  Enabling Act 10 public-employee union busting, check,

*  Obstructing ballot access through diminished hours and voter I, √√

*  Degrading the Independent Office of the Secretary of State,

*  Weakening public schools systems and axpanding private choice school funding,

*  Enacting 'right to work' legislation and repealing prevailing wage provisions - - private-sector union busting, check and check, √√

*  Installing a weak judicial recusal code written in part by the WMC,

*  Ending Shirley Abahamson's State Supreme Court Chief Justiceship - - midterm, √

*  Guaranteeing favorable rulings with a WMC-aided majority on the State Supreme Court, √ 

*  Monday Update - - ending Smart Growth planning, √

Media focusing on Wisconsin's lax water stewardship

[Updated, 3:52 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sunday, 10:03 a.m.]

It was clear from the beginning that when it came to Wisconsin's water - - a public trust resource, says the state constitution - - that Scott Walker was going to favor corporate interests over the common good. 

(Saturday update - - A Wisconsin judge ruled that a factory dairy farm cannot be compelled to monitor and document its well water withdrawals to help ensure downstream well owners who also have a right to water. Sunday updates - - Fresh investigative reporting details how weak laws and oversight in Wisconsin allow dangerous levels of nitrates from fertilizer and manure runoff to contaminate well water for close to 100,000 Wisconsinites. More about that lax regulation, here, and why it's crucial to do the kind of monitoring near big cattle feeding operations that WI legislators and courts are now blocking.)

Walker told us so, putting developers and trade group executives with a "chamber of commerce mentality" atop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and moving administratively and legislatively within days of taking office in January, 2011 to allow a campaign donor to fill and build in a wetland near Lambeau Field where the Green Bay Packers play before the permitting process had run its course.

Since then, development has been allowed to more freely encroach on wetlands and shorelines statewide, the number of water table draining frac sand mines and big animal feeding operations has exploded, pollution investigation and enforcement actions have receded, and corporate demands on the Legislature for ground water control have become brazen, leaving it to everyday citizens with a sense of public purpose to carry out water stewardship and public advocacy the DNR is supposed to do for all the people of the state.

Even to the point of asking the US Environmental Protection Agency to push the DNR to enforce federal water standards and law which the state has neglected for years, as the public interest law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates has documented.

Media are taking greater notice of this untenable and unsustainable resource and policy situation in Wisconsin just as state legislators are moving to speed up the giveaway of public water and its oversight to private interests:

*  The award-winning investigative and environmental writer Ron Seely focused on the unthinkable:  an outrageous lack of clean drinking water for some Wisconsin citizens:
Lynda Cochart’s water from her private well was so poisoned by salmonella, nitrate, E. coli and manure-borne viruses that one researcher compared the results from her Kewaunee County farm to contamination in a Third World country. She suspects the problem is related to the county’s proliferation of large livestock operations, although testing did not pinpoint the source.
*  Aljazerra is running a three-part series about many of the same issues:
Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series examining industry’s effects on Wisconsin’s water resources. Part one looks at the politicization of the Department of Natural Resources. Part three explores agriculture's effect on Kewaunee County's drinking water 
WAUSHARA COUNTY, Wis. — For the Trudell family, Lake Huron in north-central Wisconsin is a little slice of paradise. 
But the Trudells can hardly recognize the lake they have spent summers on since 1988. It has lost about 11 feet of water since 2000, said Dan Trudell, and water levels are continuing to drop. It’s a fate Huron shares with other lakes and streams in Wisconsin’s Central Sands region — a six-county area north of Madison. Some residents and researchers are pointing to the proliferation of high capacity wells — largely used to irrigate crops in the area — as the cause. 
Among the waterways that are threatened is the Little Plover River, a renowned trout stream that was listed as one of America’s most endangered rivers in 2013. The nonprofit organization American Rivers, which identifies the most endangered rivers in
And a few from this blog:

A 2013 post about the seeds of the crisis:

Through complacent, shortsighted and partisan behavior, these politicians are disconnecting wetlands from their ecosystems and also disconnecting Wisconsin from imperative local-to-international water conservation planning.
Turning these disconnects around begins with absorbing the common sense conclusion of the 1966 Wisconsin Supreme Court Hixon case ruling that informed water-related decision-making for decades:
A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body of water may be eaten away until it may no longer exist.
An even earlier Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in the 1914 Husting case also emphasized the importance of unfettered public access to water:
The wisdom of the policy which, in the organic laws of our state, steadfastly and carefully preserved to the people the full and free use of public waters, cannot be questioned. Nor should it be limited or curtailed by narrow constructions.
One recent summary keyed to giveaway legislation:
Readers of this blog know its principal environmental focus is the endangered state of Wisconsin's waters. 
The culprit isn't climate change or bad luck.
We're facing a wholly-unnecessary crisis created by conservative politicians and their industry-obeisant bureaucrats who are working hard and effectively in lockstep with donors and other friends to grant special interest favorsundo pollution regulations, end guarantees of vital and fair downstream water sharing and eliminate citizen ownership and management of live-affirming and public waters.
 When the state sides with Big Ag, away goes the water:
Updated] Two groups are challenging a recent decision by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that willfully disregards a judge's order and sets the stage for massive manure spreading by an industrial-scale cattle feeding operation.
More of the legal nitty-gritty is here
I've been saying for sometime that the fight to enjoy clean, accessible water in Wisconsin - - long guaranteed by the state constitution and case law - - is the signature environmental struggle right now in a state increasingly obeisant to conservative special interests and corporate power - - and this case heading for further litigation in the public interest is making the point: 
Two environmental groups Monday filed an appeal challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decision on Sept. 11 to grant a water pollution permit to Kinnard Farms to expand its large industrial farm to more than 8,000 animal units... 
Last month, the DNR approved the Kinnards' permit, allowing them to spread 70 million gallons of liquid manure and wastewater annually from their dairy operation in the Town of Lincoln on 8,000 acres of land in the towns of Lincoln, Red River and Casco, as well as land in Brown and Door counties.  The permit was issued despite a October 2014 administrative law judge's decision that said that the DNR had authority under state law to impose a limit on the farm's animals and require off-site groundwater monitoring operations by the dairy.
With big cattle CAFO's expanding with the state's approval, huge pig CAFO's might be next, like this one: 

Huge hog farm on tap near Lake Superior in NW Wisconsin

[Updated 4:43 p.m.m June 25, 2015] Remember that giant hog operation which Iowa producers wanted to locate in Northwest Wisconsin close to Lake Superior?

Well, that plan to build "Badgerwood" is proceeding, the Journal Sentinel reports.

Update: It was reported last year that Wisconsin's DNR, under Scott Walker's "chamber of commerce mentality" direction, had only eight inspectors available to monitor 258 large animal feeding operations, or CAFO's. Walker's current budget greatly reduces DNR science and other operations.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Milwaukee streetcar one step closer

The city has a deal with its preferred equipment manufacturer. Excellent news.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

WI is having a high-speed 'Duh' moment

There has been an increase in crashes and injuries after WI raised its speed limit to 70 m.p.h.
WisDOT photo
Who'd have thunk that?

Not our highway-happy special interest Legislative servants, though they were urged not to follow the bad example already set by neighboring states:

MADISON, Wis. (AAA) -- AAA Wisconsin is urging the Wisconsin State Senate to stop proposed legislation that would raise the maximum speed limit on rural highways to 70 mph due to concerns that higher speeds make it more difficult for vehicles to slow or stop in order to avoid a collision, and can increase the severity of resultant crashes…. 
The evidence from neighboring states provides a clear warning: higher speed limits lead to higher rates of truck involvement in fatal crashes. According to the most recent data available from NHTSA (2012), Wisconsin’s rate for large truck involvement in fatal crashes was 7.4 percent, while Minnesota and Iowa - which allow trucks to travel 70 mph on rural highways - were at 10 and 13.2 percent, respectively. 
Michigan, which has a differential speed limit that keeps trucks below 60 mph even in places where cars are allowed to travel 70 mph, was well below Wisconsin at 5.2 percent. Illinois, which still had a maximum speed limit of 65 mph in 2012, was slightly higher than Wisconsin but still significantly below Minnesota and Iowa.

3rd WI train derailment; where's the oversight?

[Update:] There's been another tanker car derailment in Watertown, and it better be the watershed event for freight train safety in Wisconsin.

Just a reminder that twenty months ago, as oil tanker shipping and accidents elsewhere were on the increase, I wrote this:
Wisconsin Should Move To Ensure Oil Shipping Safety
This new Watertown event took place this morning just 400 feet from an earlier derailment last weekend - - one of two Saturday-Sunday freight rail accidents in the Badger State.

As of this reporting, five tanker cars ran off the track, but remained upright and have not leaked cargo.

Unlike what happened in the first Watertown derailment, where something like 1,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled. Mercifully, the community did not go up in flames.

Both Watertown incidents involved Canadian Pacific railroad equipment.

These Wisconsin derailments - - a third involved a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad freight train which spilled about 20,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River north of Alma - -  within a few days of each other have got to spur better oversight of rail operations in Wisconsin.

Are these events caused by operator error? Poor management? Bad track? Faulty equipment, or a combination?

Are they unrelated to one another, or systemic?

We're past the freight rail 'accident waiting to happen' phase in Wisconsin, where the government seems satisfied with rail safety being assisted by only only one full-time railroad inspector working out of state government's smallest office but responsible the safe condition of 3,000 miles of track and 4,500 grade crossings.

Details, data and earlier links, here.

Does "catastrophe underway' have to gruesomely replace 'accident waiting to happen' before elected officials and railroad companies get serious and act immediately on the public's behalf?

If legislators can schedule self-interested special meetings on campaign oversight they can spend that kind of time and energy improving freight rail oversight in the state, especially since they know that hazardous Bakken crude oil tanker shipments through the state have increased dramatically in recent years.

Watertown is represented in the State Senate by its Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, (R).

The time for action was yesterday.

Greenhouse gas pollution hits historic high

Smokestack air pollution has crossed into dangerous and unprecedented levels.

The response of Wisconsin's GOP politicians is to take the federal government to court to try and prevent reductions in these harmful emissions, and to put policy, legal and fee barriers in the way of cleaner, renewable energy production, thus answering that age-old question:

"What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren?"
EPA to issue rules on smokestack greenhouse gases soon

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

WI lawmakers propose much-needed rail safety measures

Excellent first steps on a bi-partisan basis, including more money for inspectors and training - - about which I have have been sounding the alarm - - but now comes the hard work of keeping the issues and the needs in the public mind so that remedial rail safety measures succeed at the Capitol and precede another derailment.

Derailments are up, hazardous train movements with up to 110 tanker cars each are up statewide, but the state needs to be better prepared, pro-active and far more vigilant.

One permanent full-time rail inspector for a state with 3,000 miles of track  and 4,500 grade-crossings is a worse accident waiting to happen, so speak up and out to your local papers, columns and elected officials on behalf of public safety.

Watch this blog for UN climate change conference news

It's a big deal and begins in less than three weeks:


It is the 21st Conference of the Parties, i.e. the annual meeting of all countries which want to take action for the climate. It will be held in Le Bourget, France, from 30 Novembre to 11 December.

It will be held in Le Bourget, France,
from 30 November to 11 December 2015.