Friday, August 31, 2007

Lazich Aligns Herself With Out-Of-State Compact Foes

A letter circulating around the State Capitol from State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) - - the full text is at the bottom of this post - - tells Great Lakes legislators who convened in Traverse City, Michigan last week she wants the Great Lakes Compact sent back to the Governors for rewriting.

(Lazich sent me a copy of the letter by email today, confirming it's authenticity.)

As to rewriting the Compact, in the real world: Fat chance. That would kill it.

It took the Governors, their Canadian provincial counterparts, and numerous other stakeholders five years to write a compromise document. There is no way that process will start over. Minnesota and Illinois have already ratified it and the whole process is moving forward, though certainly slowly.

But it's moving forward and is an absolute necessity because the Great Lakes are being pummeled by drought, falling levels, invasive species and decades of inattention. Not only does the Compact need to be adopted by all the Great Lakes states, the state of Wisconsin should be the leader with strong, active, pro-conservation implementing legislation, as many organizations have recommended.

Here is a statement by leading Wisconsin conservation and environmental groups explaining what needs to be strengthened in the Compact - - the opposite of the Lazich approach.

Lazich, supported by the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, has been sniping at the Compact for months from her perch as a member of the legislature's special study committee set up a year ago to draft meaninful, effective enabling Compact legislation for Wisconsin - - not to obstruct or kill it.

Sending it back to the Governors would, ironically, lead to years more delay and thus leave in place as the only regulation on Great Lakes withdrawals a tough, federal standard that would keep Lake Michigan water from easily or quickly flowing to the City of Waukesha and to Lazich's base in the City of New Berlin.

Another prediction, and additional irony:

Telling out-of-state legislators that she thinks the Compact should go back to the Governors for rewriting and aligning herself with the Compact's staunchest foes in Ohio is likely to further marginalize Lazich's effectiveness in the Compact's Wisconsin drafting.

She has already been left off a bi-partisan working group on the Compact initiated by Gov. Jim Doyle because the goal of both the legislative study committee and the working group is Compact adoption, not Compact deep-sixing.

The letter's text:

Dear Michigan State Senator Birkholz and Great Lakes Legislators:

Currently I serve on a Wisconsin Legislative Council Study Committee that has been meeting since September 7, 2006, to study and recommend whether the Wisconsin Legislature should adopt the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact. Each of the eight Great Lakes states has a different stake in the Compact and the status of legislation to ratify the Compact varies from state to state.

I have followed this issue closely both on and off the committee, and I am very disappointed that I will not be attending the meeting in Traverse City . Prior family plans with people attending from other states keep me in Wisconsin .

The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact implicates conflicting public policy issues. The Great Lakes hold about one fifth of the world’s freshwater. It is undisputed that freshwater is a valuable resource that must be preserved. Some people may argue that water should not be removed from the Great Lakes or from the Great Lakes Basin.

However, it is also undisputable that freshwater is used now to meet current needs and those needs will continue to grow. We Great Lakes states do not want to be at a disadvantage by agreeing to a compact that denies our constituents and our states reasonable use of Great Lakes water.

There are various problems with the Compact including, but not limited to:

ONE STATE VETO

Under existing federal law, the 1986 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), one state’s governor can veto an application for a diversion of Great Lakes water. The parties negotiating the Compact failed to remedy this twenty year old flaw in totality. Instead, it still exists in the Compact in relation to some diversions. Allowing one state to veto an application gives one state power out of proportion with that state’s interests in the Basin’s resources. Giving dictatorial power to one state is not consistent with majority rule. Our country was founded on majority rule and our country exists to this day on the principle of majority rule.

CONGRESSIONAL AUTHORITY

Proponents of the Compact may say that it should be enacted so that the states in the Great Lakes Basin can determine the future management of Great Lakes water. However, Congress has the final legal authority to interfere with the operation of a compact. The ultimate check on Congress is political and unfortunately the eight states that are party to the Great Lakes Compact have a minority of seats in Congress. Historically Congress has rarely interfered with compacts it has approved; however; with water becoming a scarce resource and the Great Lakes states status as a minority in the U.S. Congress, there is a lot at stake for the Great Lakes states. I am concerned that over time Congress might enact changes to water law that are not in the best interest of the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes states.

GOVERNORS MIGHT CHANGE COMPACT

Once approved by Congress, there is a provision of the Compact allowing the Governors of the Great Lakes states, sitting on the Council, to amend key provisions of the Compact regarding standards and reviews. There is the risk that they may amend the Compact so that it provides less protection for the Great Lakes , or at the other extreme, onerous regulations. This uncertainty always invites the possibility of litigation.

PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE

Adopting the Compact raises the specter of extending the Public Trust Doctrine to all waters in all Great Lakes states, including groundwater. Specifically, the trust language in the Compact, “The waters of the basin are precious public natural resources shared and held in trust by the states.” For example, Ohio Senator Timothy Grendell has already noted that the Public Trust Doctrine language of the Compact would also have negative results in Ohio .

The Trust language in the Compact has been identified as language that cannot be modified by the states. The Public Trust Doctrine has various meanings in the states, and the Compact may affect each state differently. What will it mean in the State and Federal courts, how will this get resolved?

FISCAL IMPACT

State and local governments will incur a fiscal cost for implementing the Compact, including the costs associated with litigation. The broad language of the compact is ripe for extensive litigation and state costs.

REGULATORY UNCERTAINTY

If ratified by all eight states and adopted by Congress, the Compact will be federal law. The results of litigation over the Compact may be unanticipated and unintended regulations, and states cannot change the Compact.

The states do not have discretion to change substantive Compact language. Early in the process, the Wisconsin Legislative Council staff provided our Study Committee with a memorandum that among other things identified examples of the broad language of the Compact. That memorandum is attached. The broadness of the Compact’s language invites litigation over its meaning and application.

CONCLUSION

The governors of the eight states and the premiers of the two Canadian provinces signed the Compact in 2005, and only Minnesota with very little at stake, and Illinois with massive special diversion protection in the compact, have ratified the Compact. The Compact should be sent back to the Governors of the Great Lakes States so that they can correct fatal flaws in the Compact.

I hope the meeting in Traverse City is filled with healthy debate. I am very disappointed that I will not be in attendance, and I look forward to knowing the information presented in Traverse City .

If you have questions, comments, concerns, or advice for me, please contact me.

Sincerely,

Mary Lazich
State Senator
Senate District 28

Note: the memo electronically came with an attachment, referenced in the text, and which I have appended here.

Milwaukee Deep Tunnel Debate: Commentaries Abound

A friend called from Madison the other day looking for the five-minute short course on our Deep Tunnel.

Forty-five minutes later, the most useful thing I had done is to point him towards the Journal Sentinel's recent Sunday deep tunnel editorial and paired op-ed by Lynn Broaddus, environmental activist and Executive Director of Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers.

I was out of town for part of that week, but in reconstructing the chronology, it looks like Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy started this latest round of commentary.

I guess rightist talkers Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes jumped in, as they have for years.

Charlie regularly smears the MMSD by awarding faux weekly "Deep Tunnel" awards to politicians and groups he says are "full of it," complete with oh-so-cute toilet flushing sound effects).

But the talkers apparently ranted about the MMSD because the newspaper's editorial chastised some radio talkers for spreading misinformation about the agency. (Imagine that!)

I didn't hear any of the radio, but Belling has dealt with MMSD twice in recent Waukesha Freeman columns, and Bill Christofferson, blogging as Xoff at UppityWis.org, pulled alot of the threads together.

Read those links, and one more later in this posting, and you'll be done with the short course.

My take: the Deep Tunnel ain't perfect, but it's a vast improvement from the old days.

And the Deep Tunnel didn't get credit for the huge reduction in annual overflows it achieved.

The MMSD is spending heavily to improve the system. It needs to do more, and it benefits from media criticism, organizations' scrutiny, vigorous oversight and public input.

It also should be praised for its very active conservation activities, ranging from big-picture riverbank and watershed protections to rain garden promotion and rain barrel distributions.

Bloviating by rightwing talkers, however, adds nothing constructive.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pat Henderson New Deputy Secretary at DNR

Pat Henderson, one of the Doyle administration's key staffers and Great Lakes policy people has moved from DOA to the DNR as part of a continuing shake-up there.

Does Fred Thompson Have Staying Power?

So Fred Thompson is going to announce?

I wonder if he's in too late, even though the election is more than a year away.

His spring and summer-long dithering suggests some ambivilance, some indecision: his leaked announcement plan looks anti-climatic and underwhelming to me.

It'll be interesting to see if he shoots up in the polls or gets the politician's dreaded deat-cat bounce.

Alliance Of Cities Notes Which Cities The Assembly GOP Hates. Any Guesses?

State budgeting as a partisan weapon?

The Wisconsin Alliance of Cities notes that the Assembly budget proposal cuts shared revenue to certain cities, Milwaukee among them.

Could it be that there are too many Democrats in those cities, could it?

One Wisconsin Now And Its Blogger Gets Respect

The Madison Capital Times publishes a major profile on Cory Liebmann, the blogger/"netroots" coordinator at One Wisconsin Now, (OWN), highlighting both the organization's emergence as a statewide political force and Liebmann's investigative work into now-State Supreme Court jurist Annette Ziegler's stock holdings.

So congratulations to OWN and to Cory.

One Wisconsin Now has also hired Scot Ross as its Executive Director.

The activist organization is playing a key role across the state in the health care reform debate, and expects to continue and broaden its issue-based activities.

(Disclosure: I am on OWN's board).

Belling Laugh-A-Thon Subbing for Funny Man Limbaugh

Driving around Wednesday afternoon, and, for a moment, thought Comedy Central had begun a new radio feed.

Some guy was ranting about the similarities in American politics today to the Russian Revolution of 1920 - - whatever that meant (1917 perhaps?1918?) - - and that today's American Democrats were identical to Russian leftists then.

Among the talker's intellectually-deep red-baiting examples: support for national health insurance.

You know - - that sort of program they have in Communist Germany, Italy, France, Australia, and so on.

(In fact, here's a map of which countries have and don't have universal health care coverage. Note that the US provides it in Afghanistan and Iraq! Just what kind of values are we promoting over there? Communist?)

Then, a few minutes later, the squawker opined that as '08 unfolded, an independent Lieberman-McCain ticket was possible.

Mark that down, so to speak.

Anyway: Then I realized that this voice talking goofytalk belonged to our own radio ranger...Mark Belling.

And that he was talking from Rush Limbaugh's big chair in New York City (which Mark has said previously means he camps out in a hotel room rather than going out on the town during his free time and fretting, being in New York City and all...), so when Mark goes national, his ideas and words go national, too.

And that's comedy.

$50 Billion More Headed For the Quagmire

Whether your concern is fighting poverty in Milwaukee, guaranteeing Great Lakes restoration, improving energy research and development, or paying down the national debt - - kiss another $50 billion in federal revenues goodbye.

That's what President Bush wants as an additional appropriation for the Iraq War.

November 2008 can't come fast enough.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As Congestion Nightmare Evaporated, Seattle Looks Past Freeways

A huge traffic mess predicted for Seattle never materialized during the shutdown of a major freeway.

Turns out that traffic diffuses to other streets, much the way that rushing water is absorbed into a wetlands - - an analogy that former Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist often made. (Disclosure: I worked for Norquist from 1996-2004.)

Makes you wonder why the cash-strapped state is hell-bent on spending $6 billion on more freeway lanes in the seven-county Milwaukee region, when studies by the regional planners promoting the expansion have shown it will only modestly reduce the congestion predicted.

And which, as Seattle discovered, just doesn't happen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oil Spill Drill Off Duluth: Training For Murphy Oil Expansion?

The good folks up on Lake Superior are running oil spill cleanup drills off Duluth - - just a few skips of a stone from the Murphy Oil refinery, where a six-fold expansion could begin soon if the oil company finds an investor who can help finance the plan.

Are these two circumstances related - - practicing the clean-up of an oil spill on Lake Superior, and a planned expansion of the big refinery there on the Big Lake?

Well, it turns out the drill is an annual one.

Let's hope we never need to find out how well the training actually went.

Doyle Makes Great Appointment To The DNR Board

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle today appointed veteran City of Milwaukee forester, environmental supervisor and public works official Preston Cole to the Department of Natural Resources Board for a six-year term.

That's good news for Wisconsin and Milwaukee, because Preston Cole knows his stuff.

US Sen. Larry Craig Flunks Politics 101

When it's crisis management time, politicians are schooled to avoid the dreaded "second-day" story syndrome.

In other words, don't make a bad situation worse.

Don't raise more questions or make fresh disclosures about something that provoked a difficult or embarrassing story - - grist, in other words, for follow-up reporting.

Which is exactly what gay rights' basher US Sen. Larry Craig, (R-ID), has done in the wake of his arrest for misbehaving in a Minnesota men's room.

After you are caught, and plead guilty, you might drop out of sight, or retreat into counseling, ask for some private time to sort things our, with a plan to address your constituents at a later time - - anything to appear thoughtful, hopefully authentically thoughtful, when serious thought and reflection are needed.

What you don't do if you are a national lawmaker is proclaim your innocence after pleading guilty, then kick yourself some more in print for going to court without an attorney - - all of which was reported by The Washington Post after Craig's arrest was first disclosed by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill insiders' newsletter.

You just end up looking stupid.

UPDATE: Here comes Day 3,4,5 stories, ad infinitum. And play the Blame the Media card?

He'll have to resign, and fast. The GOP leadership, seeing '08 shaping up as a post-W massacre, will demand it.




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Wetlands, While Beautiful, Are Also Natural Flood Insurance, Group Says

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association reminds us through a nicely illustrated op-ed in the Wisconsin State Journal that wetlands are more than beautiful, wild areas for people and wildlife to enjoy: wetlands help with flood control, an unfortunately timely topic this month in Wisconsin.
All the more reason to push the legislature to adopt Gov. Jim Doyle's expansion of the state's stewardship land acquisition fund, too,.

Rush Limbaugh And The Ugliness Of Right-Wing Talk Radio

A while back, some of in the blogosphere had a bit of fun turning back Charlie Sykes' published talk radio rules on themselves/himself.

Here's some reporting on Rush Limbaugh's recent racially-tinged rants.

The site run by the conservative-watchdogs at Media Matters For America comes with an online signature opportunity that adds your name to a running total calling for an apology.

Remember: One of the things some us on the left said you won't hear on right-wing talk radio is "I'm sorry," and I don't expect you will hear it from Rush or his sycophants, even when it's needed.

Residents Object to Herbicide - - DNR Gives Approval Anyway

Residents along Pewaukee Lake objected to proposed chemical weed-killing - - and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved it anyway.

The spraying will affect 137 Pewaukee Lake shoreline properties. The chemical is 2,4-D.

And the DNR wonders why it has fewer and fewer supporters, and why environmentalists and conservationists are calling for an overhaul of the agency's leadership.

Franklin Sprawls Farther: Who Will Pay?

Other questions raised by Franklin's interest in pushing its sewer connections towards Racine:

Where does this fit into the M-7's purported priorities with regard to Milwaukee?

Conservation, land-use controls, and Smart Growth planning?

Pressure on the water table and the region's woefully inadequate transit system?

John Michlig, a Franklin blogger, covers these issues in depth.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stephen Colbert, Genius

Stephen Colbert is raising money for wounded Iraq war vets by auctioning on eBay the cast that just came off his broken wrist.

With nearly a week to go, the bidding is past $13,000.

He's managed to turn a minor injury into hugely funny TV during weeks of programming (side note: my wife and I made a trip to NYC last summer just to be faces in the crowd, and I got to be in a little impromptu skit with Colbert during the warmup: Big Fun!) ) and now to raise money for a worthy cause.

The New York Times has even taken note.

His show and Jon Stewart's at Comedy Central are certainly the real must-see TV, Monday-through-Thursday, 10-11 p.m. central time.

The Great Lakes Need Protection, And We All Need A Stronger DNR

Clean Wisconsin staff attorney Melissa Malott raises important questions about Murphy Oil's intentions at its refinery on Lake Superior.

Will a six-fold expansion of refining planned there lead to more pollution of Lake Superior?

Given the company's pollution track record that Malott cites in her Wisconsin State Journal Sunday op-ed, the concerns are valid, and they need to be raised and addressed before Murphy Oil is allowed to turn Lake Superior into an industrial dump.

Clean Wisconsin is a Madison-based environmental organization.

In an earlier blog posting, I questioned whether the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will stay passive in the face of the Murphy Oil issue.

It's a fair question, because that's what the DNR did while the rest of the Great Lakes forced British Petroleum to step back from its expansion-related pollution at its Northern Indiana refinery on Lake Michigan.

All in all, and especially with the Great Lakes Compact getting watered down in a state legislative study committee dominated by development interests in fast-growing Waukesha County, it's the right time to ask the DNR to step up and begin managing the state's water resources in the public interest.

The Public Trust Doctrine, embedded in the Wisconsin Constitution and State Supreme Court rulings, requires it, and the DNR needs a refresher course in its mission.

Look no farther than its own webpage on the subject.

There was a recent, swift and relatively unexplained change in DNR Secretaries this summer, with the incumbent Scott Hassett leaving in favor of Corrections Department Secretary Matt Frank.

No offense to Frank, but surely he was not appointed for his environmental credentials.

Talk around the Capitol was that the DNR's regional district operations needed more coordination, and that perhaps the Office of the Secretary and the Governor's Office were not on the same page, so the change could have had more to do with internal operations and communications than the details of public policy, sources suggest.

Maybe they are right, and maybe they are wrong, but this much is pretty clear:

This was a lost opportunity by Gov. Jim Doyle to install a high-profile, environmentally-inclined individual to lead the department.

It strengthens the case for legislation recently introduced into the legislature to return the department to independent status and the secretary's appointment to the Natural Resources Board.

The legislation is bipartisan and enjoys the support of groups including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Wisconsin League of Conservation voters, and also, in detail (2007 priorities, p.21.)

When hearings are scheduled, supporters of a stronger, grassroots-driven DNR - - the one envisioned by Wisconsin's great conservationists - - need to come out in force.

The politicization of the department is one of the more onerous legacies of Tommy Thompson's politics-at-all-costs regime, right up there with his pandering to big business by eliminating the Public Intervenor positions from the Office of the Attorney General.

The Great Lakes and the state's natural environment need firmer stewardship, without government that enables or tolerates the pollution of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior by oil companies.

The Public Trust Doctrine needs to be treated as a mandate, not an option.

In their separate actions, Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation are pointing the way.

Court Action May Bar BP's Pollution Plans For Lake Michigan

While British Petroleum has backed off its permitted allowance for more pollution from its northern Indiana refinery on Lake Michigan, an environmental group, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, is pursuing the matter in court to make BP's voluntary action permanent.

This assertive and principled opposition to adding more toxins to the Great Lakes is in the true spirit of the region's collective water ownership, enshrined in the Public Trust Doctrine that is a permanent part of the Wisconsin Constitution.

Handed down from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Public Trust Doctrine is part of the region's good government definition, and of natural resource protection heritage, too.

All of which makes the State of Wisconsin's official silence on the BP issue, broken last week by a shrug of the shoulders over the entire matter by a senior Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources official all the more shocking.

If the DNR is allowed to morph into an arm of the Department of Commerce, we're headed for years more environmental disappointments in the state, with the Public Trust Doctrine becoming little more than an historical footnote.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Smoking Out Scott Walker

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker gets credit for ordering smokers to keep their distance from county-owned building entrances.

It's obnoxious to run the gauntlet of smokers in order to get into a publicly-owned building, and unhealthy, too.

Walker would get more credit if he'd lead locally on a wider smoking ban in businesses that operate with public permits, and would get deeply involved in anti-smoking efforts generally.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Region's Flooding Raise This Question: Which Tributary Could Accommodate Waukesha's Potential Discharge Of Treated Lake Michigan Water?

The City of Waukesha continues to work with the Department of Natural Resources in the city's search for a solution to one major stumbling block to winning a diversion from Lake Michigan: returning water to the lake.

Without this so-called return flow, a diversion would fail politically under the requirements and intent of federal law and the Great Lakes Compact, drafted, pending or adopted.

That's because basic principles of sustainability and water conservation demand that water taken from a source like Lake Michigan be returned, minus a reasonable amount consumed.

Waukesha is looking at the Root River and other tributaries as the potential means to convey diverted water back to Lake Michigan - - but as this summer's rains have shown, some tributaries cannot handle heavy and unpredictable natural precipitation without flooding, so could they also handle several million gallons of water daily sent down river by Waukesha?

Waukesha has indicated that it would keep its Fox River treatment facilities open, perhaps using both the old and new means of disposal to handle treatment flow during major rains.

But that would, at times, be a lot to coordinate and predict, and could leave the Lake Michigan return with deficits.

It's a dilemma, for sure, but one that regulators in the other Great Lakes states will study closely, and one that underscores why conservation, water reuse and recycling may be better courses of action both in Waukesha and for the Great Lakes.

It's not a solution to the needs and burdens of one watershed to transfer them to another.

As Predicted, SEWRPC Recommends Wide Use of Diverted Lake Michigan Water

As predicted on this blog, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC), has begun to float out its solutions to the region's water supply issues as it has chosen to define them, and recommended potential diversions from Lake Michigan to suburbs in counties across the region, according to documents quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Put this together with the cavalier attitude over at the DNR about potential Lake Michigan pollution by an oil company, and you can see that the powers-that-be in Wisconsin - - even the so-called regulators - - are setting the public interest in water aside in favor of industry and land development.

The million-dollar water supply study upon which these recommendations are based has been classic SEWRPC theater, not unlike the study a few years ago that considered highway options, but in the end recommended what everyone knew would be the outcome - - an expanded regional freeway system.

In that case, the state Transportation Department lapped up the recommendations - - after all, it had paid SEWRPC to do the study - - and the state is dutifully following through with spiffier interchanges and 127 miles of new freeway lanes, with more sprawl induced, and soon, further aided by a torrent of fresh water for development from Lake Michigan.

In the water study case, the recommendation for wide use of Lake Michigan water - - one of four possible paths to great water supplies and the one probably most favored by the pro-growth, suburban mindset - - was telegraphed further by the heavy representation on the advisory committee of suburban members.

When it comes to make a final recommendation among alternatives, you can put your money on a recommendation that calls for substantial diversions to address regional water supply issues.

The deck was stacked that way from the beginning.

Adding to that probability: SEWRPC hired as the study's lead consultant the firm of Ruekert & Mielke, the same consulting firm, using the same technical experts, that prepared New Berlin's Lake Michigan diversion application.

With recommendations to divert water to communities far from those most-often mentioned to date (New Berlin and Waukesha), SEWRPC is setting the table tor a recommended structural solution - - the creation of a regional water authority which could consolidate diversion applications and stage-manage development across the region.

Such an agency would become the most powerful political body in the region, directing water and thus controlling economic growth in the most populous region in Wisconsin.

And if the regional water authority's governance matches the SEWRPC model - - seven counties dominated by the suburbs and exurbs at the expense of cities and their low-income residents - - the result will be an even greater disparity in population , employment and wealth between under-represented cities in Milwaukee and Racine Counties and the outlying portions of Walworth, Kenosha, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington Counties.

Furthermore, laying the groundwork for multiple and widespread diversions will not go over well in the Great Lakes region, where a pending agreement among the states - - the Great Lakes Compact - - invisions diversions as the rare exception, not the coupon clipping proposed by SEWRPC.

In the very early stages of the water supply advisory committee's deliberations, the committee decided not to specifically incorporate as a study parameter the legal costs that could be associated with controversial diversion applications.

If the committee and full SEWRPC commission adopts the big-diversions-solution, decades-long litigation, regional and international disputes are sure to follow.

And they call this regional planning?

Stewardship Fund Success Stories Speak For Themselves

Those trying to save the state's popular and bi-partisan public land aquisition program - - The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund - - couldn't have picked a better time to publish details of more than 20 outstanding examples of the program's value.

State Assembly Republicans, taking their marching orders from land 'developers' and other self-interested special interests, have suggested cuts to the program that would render it virtually useless.

The list of 20+ successes produced by Gathering Waters Conservancy, beyond tipping off the public to some public land gems statewide, can help citizens get specific with legislators about why the program needs the full-funding proposed in the 2007-09 state budget by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.

Final budget decisions are made in conference committee meetings, where legislators make deals: members of both parties and both legislative houses have to be told that land acquisition for the public to appreciate in perpetuity is not available for horse-trading.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

DNR Official Discounts Lake Michigan Pollution Issue: Is Lake Superior Next?

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources finally broke its silence on the controversy surrounding British Petroleum's plan to add pollution of Lake Michigan (the oil company backed off on the issue Thursday in the wake of growing protests in the region, and in Congress) by minimizing the potential threat to the lake posed by three new tons daily of ammonia and sludge.

Oh, you know those environmentalists: Always worrying about adding more toxins to Lake Michigan - - by the ton!

By the so-called 'green' oil company, British Petroleum - - the one who likes to market itself as "BP - - Beyond Petroleum."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published these remarks online Thursday night in advance of Friday's hard copy editions by a senior DNR water policy administrator:

"I haven't seen anything yet where anybody has demonstrated or shown on paper - when you look at the entire lake, or even locally - that there is going to be a problem as a result of this discharge," Bruce Baker, deputy water administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said two days before BP backed off.

"Baker said he was happy people seem to care enough about the health of the lake to be riled, but he wonders if they were they riled by the right thing."

You can read his remarks in their full context, here.

The DNR has had a long, steady loss of credibility since former Gov. Tommy Thompson turned the agency into a political, cabinet-level operation, rather than the formerly independent agency operated by the Natural Resources Board, but Baker's remarks take the cake.

Not to mention the episode a few weeks ago when the DNR told the Journal Sentinel there pretty much was nothing it could do about a major dairy farm's routine fecal runoff into Lake Michigan in Manitowoc County, which left it to the huge dairy's neighbors to cobble together some remedial responses.

And its the DNR that is dancing close to approving a diversion of water from Lake Michigan to the City of New Berlin, despite a warning last December from then-Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager that it did not have the legal authority to do so.

Maybe the reason that the DNR kept quiet during the regional fight with BP was because it sincerely believed it was all much ado about nothing.

Or maybe it's because it knows that the Murphy Oil Company refinery in Superior plans to expand its refining capacity there from 35,000 barrels a day to 235,000 barrels a day (it produces gasoline and asphalt there) as soon as it can find a wealthy partner to help with the expansion.

Does the DNR plan on taking the same "it's-no-big-deal/there's nothing-we-can-do-about-it" stance about any increases in pollutants there, too?

I'll bet there is a bigger stink over a six-fold increase in the scope of a refinery on Lake Superior than the BP uproar over on the Indiana-Illinois border.

That was a state or two away to the south, on the Illinois-Indiana border:

Lake Superior is in the fabled Up North. It's our Big Lake, pristine, mythical, so perhaps more worthy of outraged concern even in the bureaucratic reaches of the DNR not rattled by the thought of more industrial dumping in Lake Michigan.

Thanks to The River Alliance of Wisconsin for beginning to sound the alarm about Murphy's plans for Lake Superior: the company's filing with the DNR is here.

What's needed is leadership from the DNR on the health of the Great Lakes.

Let's see aggressive, public words and deeds from the DNR on behalf of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

Without them, Lautenschlager, now an attorney in private practice in Madison, hit the nail on the head the other day with an op-ed piece in the Capital Times that called the state's silence regarding the BP pollution potential a "do-nothing" policy.

State Highway 41 Work To Cost More Than Redoing The Marquette Interchange

The next time you see some upstate legislator or alligator-tear shedding highway contractor griping about Gov. Jim Doyle's 'raid' on state highway dollars, consider this interesting piece and accounting in the Daily Reporter:

Improvements and widening to State Highway 41 - - and some of this is the legacy of former Assembly Speaker and highway lobby pal John Gard (R-Peshtigo)- - are scheduled to cost more than the $810 million budgeted for the Marquette Interchange project.

Says the Daily Reporter:

"There is no shortage of major state road projects on the horizon."

And apparently, no shortage of financing for those road projects, as the priority in Wisconsin transportation policy continues to favor construction over repairs.

And certainly over transit, particularly when it comes to demonized and cash-starved rail projects or expanded investments statewide in bus systems.

Milwaukee County is among a handful of major bus systems nationally without a dedicated source of funding beyond the property tax, or a state-supported regional transit authority.

Road repairs, maintenance, transit are all short-changed in Wisconsin because legislators prefer standing side-by-side with road-builder contractors cutting ribbons at highway dedications, rather than at less-sexy bridge inspection sites or bus barn ground-breakings.

And the same politicians have been bullied by talk radio into avoidance altogether of nearly every rail plan, whether trolleys, light rail or commuter rail.

So don't fall for the Assembly Republicans caterwauling about raids on the transportation fund if there's more money budgeted for Highway 41 rebuilding than what's happening where three Interstate Highways converge at the Marquette Interchange.

BP Backs Down On Permitted Pollution

A BP official says in Chicago today that the company will not add new permitte levels of pollutants to Lake Michigan, perhaps ending, for now, the fight over the pollution created at its Lake Michigan refinery at Whiting, near the Illinois border.

If true, hats off to the citizens and officials who really pressured BP and Indiana - - including Mayors like Chicago's Richard Daley and Milwaukee's Tom Barrett.

And to organizations like WisconsinEnvironment.org.

We'll see how this plays out: if BP were really, really smart, it would reduce the levels of pollutants it has been dumping by installing affordable treatment equipment.

Washington Post Covers BP/Lake Michigan Story

The Washington Post reviews the uproar over BP's pollution plans at its Whiting, IN, refinery, highlighting the Illinois vs. Indiana angle.

With some participation by Wisconsin officials, the breadth of opposition and concern for the health of the Great Lakes could have been more regional.

Our state's silence on this issue is galling.

Forbes Says Rail Helps Residents' Budgets, Cities' Economies

Comparing Dallas, Houston and other cities, Forbes.com finds that rail transit helps reduce homeowners' commuting costs and household budgets, while also adding to cities' economic growth, too.

Economic experts in Texas say they haven't missed the point.

But anti-rail policymakers, talk radio hosts and some business leaders in Milwaukee and Wisconsin can't make the same enlightened claim; interestingly, coincidentally rabid rail phobic Mark Belling had an existential moment Wednesday afternoon railing, shall we say, against commuter rail.

From the Forbes.com piece:

"Traffic in Texas

"Dallas is investing $4.86 billion to expand its commuter rail system, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), which services area suburbs and neighboring Fort Worth.

"The job is expected to be completed in 2013, and local economists say the city should reap $8.1 billion in increased economic activity over the life of the project.

"Houston, on the other hand, mainly has focused on road construction and expansion, which isn't expected to pay off as well.

"To say DART Rail's impact has been substantial for the Dallas region's economy would be an understatement," says Bernard Weinstein, an economist at the University of North Texas Center for Economic Development.

"It's a trend that's impossible to miss; the local business community certainly hasn't."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another Day, Another Story About Sanctioned Pollution

First it was British Petroleum, winning permission from the State of Indiana - - with the US Environmental Protection (sic) Agency looking the other way - - to begin dumping three additional tons of ammonia and sludge daily into Lake Michigan at the site of BP's Whiting, Indiana oil refinery.

Today, it's the Bush Administration permitting coal mining companies to blow off the tops of entire mountains in Appalachia to remove coal, allowing the rubble to fall in and fill streams and rivers in the valleys below.

Filling in hundreds more miles of waterways, projections show.

How many days left until January 20, 2009?

Belling's Existential Doubt

Mark Belling was in high rant this afternoon, devoting the 4-4:30 p.m segment of his WISN-AM drive time radio show to more emotional fulmination about commuter rail.

His specific complaint: Larry Nelson, the "lu-lu lefty Mayor" of Waukesha, had told the Waukesha Freeman he hoped a proposed southeastern Wisconsin commuter rail line would extend past Milwaukee County to stop in the City of Waukesha.

Belling tried to whip up his audience, then got no calls despite his repeated warnings that terrible tax increases would fall on communities in counties not close to stations.

After saying he'd take no calls since no one had phoned in quickly enough (Oh, the drama of the Theater of the Mind!) - - but finally ginning up two callers, the second of whom admitted he hadn't heard any of Belling's earlier warnings about the evils of the rail proposal - - Mark went to a break, asking his screener, aloud, "I wonder if I serve any purpose at all?"

Political Pollution: Feds 'Work' With BP Rather Than Bar Lake Michigan Dumping

The US Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging British Petroleum to do some feel-good spending to tamp down furor over planned contaminant dumping in Lake Michigan.

The EPA should have objected in the first place to Indiana's recent permission to BP that allows the oil giant to deposit three more tons daily of sludge and ammonia into Lake Michigan.

Suggesting some backing-and-filling to BP as a response to growing criticism across the Great Lakes region is little more than EPA pandering.

Its stance to this exceedingly wealthy company should have been: build onsite waste treatment facilities with your billions in annual profits: We are the Environmental Protection Agendy, not the Enabling Pollution Agency.

Mayor Richard Daley, Mayor Tom Barrett and a slew of others have joined most of the House of Representatives in objecting, and citizen petitions are giving way to boycotts.

But in Wisconsin, a Lake Michigan state: Continuing silence from our state officials.

Feingold Calls For Great Lakes Action: Here Are Followup Suggestions

US Senator Russ Feingold, (D-WI), has called for swift action to acknowledge and confront falling levels in Lakes Superior and Michigan.

It's good that a major political figure is finally willing to break out of the region's inertia and recognize that there are problems with the Great Lakes getting worse by the day.

Dredging for shipping by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the St. Clair River, a Great Lakes tributary which drains Lake Huron and borders the US and Canada, is believed to be a major reason - - but a fixable one - - for the needless daily loss of Great Lakes water through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean of more than two billion gallons a day.

Additionally, Lake Superior's level is hitting an historic low, most likely caused by changes in weather patterns; study by the appropriate bodies, with urgency, is among Feingold's suggestions.

A public hearing by the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and action by a joint, US-Canadian water management commission are pieces of Feingold's action plan.

Those efforts need to be followed by related activities, and promptly, because some studies to deal with these issues have completion dates five years away.

That's unacceptable.

Legislation to fund a fast-tracked plan to add fill to the damaged St. Clair River needs to be introduced in the Congress, with companion legislation on the Canadian side, too.

The Great Lakes Council of Governors, chaired by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, needs to call immediately for the quick adoption of remedial efforts in the St. Clair River, including longer-term, more permanent structural repairs and conservation improvements.

Grassroots organizations need to push for and support a package of legislative and scientific efforts; officials on a bi-partisan basis at the local, state and federal levels need to support these efforts, too.

Doyle and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago should also pledge the resources of UW-M's pioneering Wisconsin Aquatic Technology and Environmental Research (WATER) Institute as a coordinating technical body.

Wisconsin and Milwaukee are perfectly situated to take leadership; if they don't, it's a missed opportunity for the entire Great Lakes region, and certainly for UW-M, which has dreamed of playing a larger research role and now has that chance because of circumstances literally in its front yard.

Curiously, Santiago has pinned his hopes for an upgraded UW-M research identity on building a new engineering center on Milwaukee County-owned land in Wauwatosa, 12 miles from his admittedly-crowded East Side campus.

Yet Santiago admits he has no money to build or staff the proposed new facility, and if he did, then 50-82 acres would never make it onto the tax rolls - - reasons that suggest that his focus on new University bricks-and-mortar miss an important countywide goal.

Enhancing the WATER Institute, an existing UW-M, would be both a quicker and more sustainable win.

Petition Drive, Ads Against British Petroleum Gaining Strength

The Chicago Tribune reports that the petition drive against British Petroleum over the oil company's plan to increase pollution dumping into Lake Michigan is gaining strength.

Picketing at some BP stations in the Midwest has been reported. Ads are running in Chicago, all adding more public pressure to force Indiana officials to rethink and rescind their permission permitting BP to add tons more ammonia and sludge daily to Lake Michigan at the Whiting, IN refinery.

Here's a YouTube posting about this regional outrage, courtesy of US Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-IL).

Wisconsin politicos, some of whom are distrubinglin silent on this crucial issue: Take note: that's leadership!

Do your part: sign an online petition - - one opportunity here - - another here - - and buy your gasoline elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

George W. Bush: Key Democratic Organizer

Pres. George W. Bush blocks states from extending health insurance to some children.

It's more important to keep as many Americans in their for-profit health care plans than it is to make sure families have affordable health care - - for the kids.

That's keeping your priorities in line.

Watch his few remaining Republican supporters desert him before the 2008 elections.

Watch Karl Rove's "permanent majority" fully disappear.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Water Woes And World-Wide Political Pressures

From Washington, DC to Walworth and Waukesha Counties in Wisconsin, water is emerging as the crucial political issue of the 21st century.

Climate scientists tell The Washington Post that greenhouse gas emissions are altering historic rainfall patterns worldwide, leading to population and political shifts that will get more intense.

This, of course, should be spurring the Great Lakes legislatures to move with a sense of heightened urgency to adopt a pending (since 12/05) regional agreement, the Great Lakes Compact, in order to preserve Great Lakes water through conservation and controlled diversions.

Illinois and Minnesota are the only two of the eight Great Lakes states to have ratified the Compact.

Wisconsin, in past generations a leader in water conservation, has been unable to approve and implement the Compact because developers and politicians in Waukesha County, and their allies in the legislature, have managed to slow the legislative drafting process to a crawl.

Within Waukesha and Walworth Counties, small, localized skirmishes over water have begun to spill over into legal complaints.

Bigger struggles are coming, as the City of Waukesha, having failed to win a Lake Michigan diversion behind closed doors, is likely to seek a large diversion that could be be denied by the State of Michigan.

And that could lead to a court challenge to federal law that gives one Great Lakes state the power to initially block another's effort to move water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin - - a challenge that could open the Great Lakes to wholesale water withdrawals, without protections, such as returning a like amount to cover the withdrawal and maintain the lakes' levels.

Having the Compact in place would rationalize much of the diversion process.

And it would help protect the Great Lakes as climate change pushes drier areas in the US to look to our region for water supplies.

It's time for citizens and organizations to demand that the legislature pass a strong bill to implement the Great Lakes Compact. Most important for Wisconsin to enforce:

Provisions toughening local community conservation plans, diversion permissions, prohibitions reining in water bottling companies and guaranteeing that the public can intervene in water policy and regulatory disputes.

Details of what should be in that bill, according to a growing number of Wisconsin opinion-makers, conservation and environmental organizations, are here.

State Sen. Lazich Continues Her Assault On The Great Lakes Compact

Though she represents New Berlin, the sole Wisconsin community seeking a diversion of Lake Michigan water, State Sen. Mary Lazich (R) continues her assault on the Great Lakes Compact with three new, blow-up-the-Compact documents (see "The following items distributed at the request of Senator Mary Lazich," under the August 21 meeting heading) delivered to a key state legislative study committee as it prepares for another meeting Tuesday.

The Compact is a multi-state agreement designed to protect and preserve the Great Lakes and rationalize requests to divert its waters beyond the borders of the Great Lakes basin.

The Compact generously includes a relatively easy diversion standard for communities like New Berlin - - while bringing about water conservation and wise water management across the Great Lakes.

What Lazich can't grasp is an essential political and procedural truth about why she should be championing the Compact, not continuing to undermine it:

If the anti-Compact mentality held by Lazich, and her allies in the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio legislature were to prevail - - and the Compact stalled or died in one or more of the Great Lakes states - - New Berlin and the City of Waukesha could lose access to Great Lakes water because current US law makes diversions much harder, if not impossible to obtain.

The documents that Lazich has sent to the committee have been prepared in Ohio, where like-minded, anti-regionalists are raising off-note, fearsome political issues about sovereignity and property rights to slow down or kill Compact adoption in the Buckeye State.

The leading Ohio opponent of the Compact is State. Sen. Tim Grendell, who told this blog that anti-Compact legislators from across the region will gather this Saturday in Traverse City, MI.

Grendell is the author of one of the Lazich documents, and the recipient of another, the study committee's website indicates.

Lazich had earlier been prodding the committee, which has stalled for a year over various objections and red herrings thrown in by Waukesha County exceptionalists, to study the views of a Colorado legal scholar who has suggested scrapping the pending Compact (nearly five years in the drafting) and starting over.

Now there's a constructive approach!

While there are no doubt interesting ideas in Ohio's legislature and Colorado's academies, it is Wisconsin law and tradition that will guide the Compact committee.

The same goes for a separate bi-partisan committee on the Compact that Governor Jim Doyle set up after the legislative study committee, dominated by Waukesha-area members, was idling to a halt a month ago without having produced a draft bill.

Doyle left Lazich and her obstructionist tactics off the committee, and though she griped about it to the Journal Sentinel, which let her disclose her own powerless in her own words - - "I'm supposed to be the senator representing the area"- - Doyle's call was the right one.

Because what he established was a working group.

Technological Breakthrough! SEWRPC On Internet Video

No...it's not a SEWRPC-produced or supplied service.
Far be it that a multi-million dollar, publicly-funded operation would add live or recorded video to its dreadfully-archaic website, or regular communications services.

This video instead is produced by Gretchen Schuldt, a neighborhood activist and co-founder of Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, which has pushed SEWRPC for years on highway planning and other related matters.

Schuldt (posted here) a recent SEWRPC presentation on economic justice, with responsive comments by ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker, as SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force, (EJTF), was finally called to order after a long delay.

The EJTF is an effort by SEWRPC to address complaints that the planning agency has excluded minority and low-income participation.

Those complaints have dogged the agency for years, and were forcefully communicated at a 2004 Milwaukee public hearing (nicely summarized again by Schuldt) before federal officials who control a key piece of SEWRPC's role and identity - - the ability to review for approval billions in federal highway spending in southeastern Wisconsin.

Note that the response by SEWRPC was to create a citizen task force, not a full-fledged internal committee or an advisory committee. Nor did the SEWRPC effort come with modern communications to publicize the task force's work and enhance its stature.

Upgrading its website (it has no search capability, for example) and adding streaming video for people unable to get to SEWRPC meetings have been suggested to agency officials, with no follow-through.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sprawl Kills Welsh Heritage In The Kettle Moraine

Mike Johnson of The Journal Sentinel writes eloquently about the loss of Welsh heritage in the Kettle Moraine, as historic structures and farms go the way of subdivisions.

This is what the struggles over land-use, water, and regional planning and decision-making are all about in southeastern Wisconsin: one set of values rolling over another, but with the force of government, tax policy, big banks and political power greased with campaign donations on the prevailing side.

Here's another solid piece of writing about the Kettle Moraine, this time by former Journal Sentinel environmental writer Paul Hayes.

Waukesha County expects to increase its population by more than 40% in the next several decades - - essentially adding close to twice the entire Ozaukee County population within Waukesha County borders.

So goodbye Welsh heritage, and a whole lot more.

Waukesha-Walworth Communities' Water Wars Provoke Legal Action

Several citizens and lake associations in Walworth and Waukesha Counties, frustrated with what they call insufficient regulation by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, have filed a legal document seeking more controls on approvals for new, large wells.

The plaintiffs fear their waters and nearby wetlands are threatened by new, so-called "high-capacity"wells drilled by thirsty and fast-growing neighboring communities.

The DNR has said it is operating within the law; the complainants want more aggressive planning for and oversight of wells based on the state's historic Public Trust Doctrine.

That is the state's constitutional protection of Wisconsin waters in the public interest, and, coincidentally, it is the public trust doctrine that has been raised by some pro-development opponents of the pending Great Lakes Compact to justify their opposition to the eight-state, cooperative agreement

The outcome of the Waukesha-Walworth communities' action could strongly influence development and land-use patterns in southeastern Wisconsin, including where water-based growth and wealth is created, and where water shortages could occur.

It could also lead to court action mandating that the DNR use the public trust doctrine to implement more aggressive regulation of Wisconsin waters - - in the public interest - - and that, in turn, could influence whether Wisconsin would or could support diversion of Great Lakes waters to areas of the state currently forbidden from receiving them.

In December, 2006, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion that said the DNR did not have the authority to approve a diversion of Great Lakes water to New Berlin or Waukesha without the approval of all eight Great Lakes states' governors.

Lautenschlager now works for the Madison law firm of Lawton & Cates, which has filed the legal papers that call for stronger DNR oversight of high-capacity wells.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What Are Waukesha's Real Water Needs And Goals?

The City of Waukesha touts new data on water conservation, telling the Journal Sentinel the city's lawn-sprinkling restrictions are producing savings.

That's good news, though the data does show usage by some measurements actually increasing.

But Waukesha deserves credit for its ordinance, and a new rate structure that will require some large users to pay a higher rate.

Critics rightly have said the new rate should kick in at a much lower level to have more than symbolic meaning, but the trend is good, especially if the ordinances and rate reforms are given real teeth.

The problem is that while Waukesha says it is embarking on conservation, the volume of diverted water it has eyed from Lake Michigan has grown over the years.

Not long ago, Dan Duchniak, the city's water utility manager, told The New York Times that a diversion of 20 million gallons a day would suffice.

Soon thereafter, attorneys hired by the water utility, using materials prepared by another set of consultants also hired by the water utility, twice confidentially asked Gov. Jim Doyle to approve a diversion of 24 million gallons a day - - 20% more.

(To his credit, Doyle did not act on the request, and its existence was only discovered through a 2006 Open Records request).

So which is it:

Is Waukesha committed to water conservation, or is it committed to obtaining water from Lake Michigan in amounts that seem only to expand?

Or is the water diversion planning serving related goals: saving water, but using the savings politically to achieve eligibility for a much-larger supply of water from the Great Lakes - - access currently blocked by federal law because Waukesha is outside of the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin?

Waukesha could clear up the confusion by addressing these questions:

1. Will Waukesha reduce the 24 million gallon-per-day target to reflect its conservation successes? If its peak demand has fallen to just below 10 million gallons a day, why is it proposing diversions in the 20-24-million gallon-per-day range?

2. Will Waukesha pledge that diverted water will not flow to acreage beyond its current borders, since expansion will only add to the water need?

3. Will the city substantially lower the threshold at which its conservation rate kicks in, and wait an effective period of time to discern if that rate change produces more measurable water savings?

Put together with its sprinkling restrictions, and paired with additional water reuse and recycling techniques, it is conceivable that Waukesha may not need to access Lake Michigan, thus saving the region from a precedent-setting battle over Great Lakes access that could open them to far wider withdrawals.

4. Will Waukesha agree not to participate in regional acquisition or distribution of Lake Michigan water, either on its own as the acquirer and/or supplier, or through a new regional water authority or board similar to those described by a legal consultant to the regional planning commission (SEWRPC)?

(Battles between and among communities in Waukesha and Walworth Counties over surface and ground water have recently provoked what could be a precedent-setting claim for stronger DNR regulations.

A further legal wrinkle: The Attorney General has already ruled, in a little-noticed December, 2006 opinion, that the DNR cannot approve a diversion of Great Lakes water to New Berlin or Waukesha without the prior approval of all the Great Lakes governors.)

This blog is available for a response.

Onion-Like Headline From Local Waukesha Paper: "Condos Eyed For Bait Shop"

A former Village of Pewaukee president who is now a Village trustee eyes a mansion-esque condo redevelopment for Smokey's, his landmark lakeside bait shop.

Journal Sentinel Demands Action On Great Lakes Water Loss

The Journal Sentinel editorial board is correct in calling for quick action to fill and repair earlier dredging in a key Great Lakes waterway that has allowed untold billions of gallons of fresh water - - an estimated 2.25 billion daily - - to flow senselessly into the Atlantic Ocean.

It's another important voice added to others - - this blog included - - demanding more assertive action on the part of Wisconsin officials when it comes to protecting and preserving the Great Lakes.

This is a big issue in Canada, too, where politicians and groups are joining American counterparts looking for decisive, remedial action.

One alternative is to wait for the results of a proposed, three-year study, but the planning to launch the study isn't even completed, meaning there could be a delay of about five years before a plan to plug the drain in the Great Lakes.

That's absurd.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is chairman of the influential Council of Great Lakes governors, and could play a leadership role in fixing this hole in the Great Lakes, if he chose to do so.

The time for action is now.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Michigan Legal Victory Show Wisconsin Can Help Keep Ruinous Pests Out Of The Great Lakes

A federal court ruling upheld Michigan's new law strongly regulating ocean-going ships, and preventing them from releasing invasive species into the Great Lakes.

Invasive species cost all the Great Lakes states' economies; Michigan, tired of waiting for federal controls, went ahead with its own legislation, and its right to take action has now been ruled legal.

This should encourage Wisconsin legislators of both parties to press for similar legislation.

When Las Vegas Runs Dry in 2010, Don't Think The Great Lakes Won't Be Offered As Relief

Some published predictions about the City of Las Vegas running dry (that's water supply, not booze) as early as 2010 ought to be a kick in the pants to Wisconsin water policy obstructionists like State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), because the more she and her cronies delay the pending Great Lakes Compact from being implemented, the more the Great Lakes are vulnerable to wholesale, even distant diversions.

The diversion protections in the Compact, which are coordinated with conservation practices spelled out in the Compact, function as a plan to reserve Great Lakes water for rational, pragmatic uses in the Great Lakes basin.

Without the Compact - - Lazich is a member of a state legislative study committee tied up in knots for a year over Waukesha County demands for self-interested exemptions and exceptions - - the Great Lakes remain vulnerable to wholesale and thoughtless withdrawals.

Lazich and her allies on the committee and in the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce are also concerned that Michigan might block a Waukesha County community's request for a diversion.

But the greater threat is that the entire Great Lakes system could be tapped for diversions to faraway locations that could not return any water - - something bad for Waukesha County, all of Wisconsin and the entire Great Lakes region.

Some people have said Las Vegas, or Alabama, are too far to pipe water.

Let's not forget that the same thing was said about piping out Alaskan oil, too.

Battle Against BP Pollution Making Progress: Keep It Up

The pressure from Great Lakes mayors and residents is having an impact on the state of Indiana, where officials had given British Petroleum permission to add tons more pollutants daily to Lake Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press has weighed in editorially, adding an important voice, too.

Continuing pressure is a must; there were various online petition opportunities - - one is here - - and Wisconsin groups and individuals should press their elected officials to join the growing coalition demanding that BP be disallowed from adding more toxins to the very lake that millions depend upon for drinking water, recreation and employment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Streetcar Derailing A Long-Term Blow To Transit Modernization

Madison will rue the day it put trolley planning aside, in favor of commuter rail, which will help remove some commuter traffic from crowded streets - - and which purportedly frees up spending on social problems that conservatives who hail the death of trolley spending will never allow to be allocated to social problem eradication.

Nor will highway spending ever be held to the same level of scrutiny, or be allocated according to its need and value compared to spending on crime, education and other social priorities.

Rail politics in Wisconsin has made city rail - - light, trolley or hybrid vehicles like those suggested, but also derailed for Milwaukee - - so difficult to achieve that the state's major cities will be the Light-Rail-Free-Zones of the US.

When gasoline breaks $4 a gallon, then $5 in the next five years, the demand for more transit will grow louder.

And Madison, Milwaukee and other short-sighted cities will have no others to blame.

That Now-Infamous List Of 50+ Things You Won't Hear On Talk Radio

Couldn't get to posting it, but go through Paul Soglin's blog for the list of things you won't hear on talk radio.

The Wisconsin blogger Pundit Nation actually comes up first in a Google search on the subject, by the way.

Midwest Bidding War: The Flying Public Could Lose, Shareholders Will Win

The higher the bidding goes for Midwest Airlines, and the holding company that manages the airline, the higher the risk to the flying public and the service that will result when a final bidder is declared.

If AirTran has to pony up tens of millions more, then that is more money it will have to borrow and repay, which could lead to a sale of some Midwest assets, or a discontinuation of some routes.

The winners are the shareholders, and to a degree, state and federal tax collectors eyeing the shareholders' capital gains.

So it goes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Great Lakes Water Issues Require Doyle's Leadership

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carries another major piece about falling Great Lakes water levels.

The Corps of Engineers is probably responsible for a portion of the falling levels, but there are other factors - - warming temperatures, thinning winter ice, more rapid evaporation - - so there is a need for coordinated evaluation and action planning to avoid a bad situation getting worse.

And the entire question of the value of the St. Lawrence Seaway, when measured against the costs of the invasive species brought into the Great lakes by ocean-going vessels, should be addressed. Now.

Then there is the ongoing furor over Lake Michigan pollution being allowed to worsen, courtesy of the State of Indiana's permission to British Petroleum allowing added dumping of added daily tons of ammonia and toxic sludge.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is the chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. The Council can focus science, technology and media on the quality and quantity problems now plaguing the Great Lakes.

Other than convening the December, 2005 meeting of the region's governors and Canadian premiers to sign the draft Great Lakes Compact, Doyle has not assertively called the Council to meet and to act.

With serious issues facing tens of millions of Great Lakes residents, and recreation, shipping and fishing economies looking at problems too expensive and expansive to be handled by any one state, Doyle should energize the Council - - and the public - - with an aggressive agenda.

What better time than now?

Monday, August 13, 2007

BP Permit 'Solution:' An Independent Review

Mitch Daniels, The Indiana Governor, dodges responsibility in the BP pollution permit fiasco by asking for an 'independent' review.

This is the oldest dodge in the elected-officials'-in-trouble playbook, right up there with the independent commission.

The review is hardly independent because Governor Daniels appointed the independent reviewer.

Daniels approved the permit. He should have the smarts and political backbone to rescind it. And to say he made a mistake in approving it.

That's the way an elected official make a wrong into a right

That would be leadership.

More On Midwest

It's a little too early to know just what Midwest's future will be. Obviously, with Northwest as a part-owner, there may be less service to some markets out of Milwaukee.

And I suspect that Midwest's identity will be subsumed, but that would have happened with the AirTran buyout, too.

Milwaukee customers might find better international connections through a NWA partnership, as well.

I wasn't a fan of the AirTran takeover. I thought it was getting a plum brandname for a bargain price: take out the thinly-valued AirTran stock, and the company wasn't putting much cash into the deal.

NWA has lost credibility in the business as its ontime departures and other scheduling problems have become well-known. But its money could help keep Midwest afloat until the next shoe drops.

I'm an optimist.

Free Bikes: A Hit in Paris, A Plan for Milwaukee

Ah, you know those French. Never a good idea, right?

Mais non! Turns out, in fact, that the free bike plan instituted recently in Paris is a smash.

So the more modest plan in Milwaukee proposed for 2009 might just be a hit, too.

Tres bien.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Midwest Sale Saga Diverted To New Route

AirTran has pulled out of the negotiations with Midwest, suggesting that a higher price is at hand through another buyer, perhaps Northwest Air Group and another local partner.

So the saga continues, though the future of Milwaukee-based air service is getting really cloudy.

One thing is for sure: the days of the old Midwest are numbered.

Sixth Place Is Not First Or Second

Tommy's electoral and career miscalculation ends in a 6th-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll for something close to a year's work.

Running for President of the United States is a serious business, and having been Governor of Wisconsin does not translate into a national presence.

The real campaign among authentic candidates can now continue.

Walker Takes Hit In County Board Special Election

It had been called a referendum on Scott Walker's leadership, so the County Executive's power got dialed down when his preferred candidate in a special election went down to defeat in the August 7th, County Board special election.

This led to something predictable from right-wing talk radio: hyperbole that the taxpayer revolt is over!

Which led to the more predictable protestations from talk radio's lock-step blogger devotees that no, the revolt is NOT OVER!

Blah blah blah.

What's more likely is that stage-managing ususally backfires when elected officials try to influence a separate local race.

Walker's pick probably would have had a better chance if he'd just stayed out of the race, but it's hard to resist the King-Maker role.

So congratulations to the winner, Patricia Jursik. The Board needs strong voices that are independent of the County Executive.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some Good Environmental News In Wisconsin, For A Change

One of the state's leading producers of mercury pollution agrees to cut it out, reports the Journal Sentinel.

That's good news, long overdue - - but don't eat the downstream fish new Port Edwards just yet, says the DNR.

Now to get busy on the rest of the river and lakes polluters - - and the DNR needs to get on the bandwagon to force Indiana to rescind its pollution permit for British Petroleum to drop three tons daily of ammonia and toxic sludge into Lake Michigan.

Indiana Media Question BP Pollution Permit

Major Indiana media are not buying the bogus jobs-creation and-environmental protection arguments put forth by state officials and British Petroleum to justify the higher amounts of pollutants BP will be allowed to dump into Lake Michigan.

Still nothing in objection from Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, while Wisconsin and Illinois lakefront Mayors, and the US House of Representatives are loudly saying "no."

The more I think about it, the more my years in city governments and other years covering government for news media tells me that a deal has been cut - - echoing the deal that got made towards the end of the Great Lakes Compact negotiations in 2005 that came up with new categories of communities and counties beyond the Great Lakes basin which would qualify for Great Lakes diversions:

This deal:

Wisconsin says nothing negative about Indiana's actions on behalf of BP, and Indiana says nothing negative about Wisconsin's actions on behalf of Waukesha communities seeking Lake Michigan diversions.

Neither state accuses the other of hypocrisy, or of piling on, and if others object, well, so be it. As deal-making goes, it's pretty standard.

And, hey, if I'm wrong, fine. I'd love to be wrong as can be. Just show me.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Convicted Cops, Political Allies, Continue To Rip Off Milwaukee Taxpayers

The Jude cops figure out a way to extend their unwanted stay on the city payroll.

Thanks to a special law adopted by the legislature just for Milwaukee, convicted cops stay on the payroll until all appeals are exhausted.

Other cities can bounce them much earlier, but the police union pushed through the law, donating to many out-of-city legislators' campaign committees.

The best chance of repealing the law died when GOP Assembly Speaker John Gard, a police-union financed candidate for Congress, dumped the bill into committee, where it died.

The legislature has to repeal this law. It's discriminatory, illogical and wasteful.

Shepherd-Express Calls Out Doyle on BP Pollution

This blog has raised the question several times:

Why is Wisconsin silent on Indiana's permission to British Petroleum to pollute the Lake Michigan water that millions in the region rely upon for their drinking water?

Now the Shepherd-Express asks the question of Gov. Jim Doyle, and his office's response is jaw-dropping.

A New Talk Radio Dynamic: On The Defensive

I caught a bit of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker on Charlie Sykes' AM 620 WTMJ morning show Friday, and I was struck by a couple of things:

Walker was again defending his actions with regard to the latest County pension scandal. He'd been on the ball, Walker claimed. Had done a lot. Was still peeling back the onion, as if that was aggressive reform.

And explaining, again, why he opposed Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's downtown trolley plan.

Charlie had earlier bemoaned the election in a special county board election of the lesser-conservative candidate, whom Walker had promoted.

Walker and Charlie were clearly on the defensive. They had seen an election go the other way. Walker has taken a beating on the Journal Sentinel editorial pages over his trolley obstructionism, and still faces long-term political damage over a pension scandal that festered on his watch for five years.

Walker still gets a free ride on conservative AM talk radio, but it's to explain, explain, explain, and justify, justify, justify.

Not to boast, brag, and back-slap.

In politics, continuing to explain yourself is the same thing as admitting you're losing.

I can hear the sound of the air going out of a once high-riding political-and-media balloon.

More Reasons To Avoid Bottled Water

You can believe the spokespeople who say the risks from residual plastic toxins are acceptably low, but those ubiquitous bottles carrying more and more designer brand beverages might not be the best way to get your daily intake of water and other liquids.

Refilling plastic bottles is an especially bad practice, other experts say - - something you can avoid altogether and save money if you just hydrate yourself by enjoying a glass of good, old-fashioned Milwaukee tap water.

Spanish Journal Corrects Crime Story Wrongly Used By Talk Radio

The Spanish Journal newspaper in Milwaukee is helping correct an erroneous story promoted recently by leading right-wing talk show hosts and some blogger devotees that suggested a Milwaukee County Board supervisor provided sanctuary to a young shooting suspect.

It takes relentless community surveillance and fact-checking to counteract the misinformation often spread by the rightist talkers.

Good for the Spanish Journal in helping set the record straight, and to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

But will the talkers apologize, or just move on to the next subject to be carelessly demagogued?

Gee. What a tough question.

Tommy Thompson's Chutzpah

Tommy got pretty nice coverage in the Journal Sentinel during his erratic, vanity campaign for President of The United States of America.

And why not. He was the hometown guy. Everyone knew his campaign was going nowhere with the likes of Guiliani, Romney and other candidates of articulation, stature and national funding in the race.

But rather than be grateful for paper's Valentines that kept coming his way, Tommy has the temerity to blame the same Journal Sentinel for fund-raising woes that will cost him the Iowa Straw Poll.

The negative stories that Tommy is griping about were generated by the candidate's incurable foot-in-mouth behavior on the stump and in national debates.

He was in way over his head running for President of the United States, and the campaign revealed it.

Campaigns are rough. Losing is no fun. I happen to know a thing or two about that, having around plenty of losing efforts, including my own loss for Mayor of Madison.

But frankly, I'd expected more of Tommy than to fall back on the most tired of political excuses: blame the media.

When it comes right down to it, unless there was a Rovian figure in the background sabotaging your every move, candidates who lose know the loss begins with them/us.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Another Smart, Funny Blog: Illusory Tenant

Great name, too. Check it out.

Tommy's Self-Destructive National Campaign Limping To Merciful Conclusion

Our boy Tommy will have to work long and hard to recover from his misstep into national politics.

An Iowa survey on the eve of the statewide Iowa straw poll, on which Tommy had premised his entire goofy presidential bid, shows him polling somewhere between less than 1% and 2.1% - - generously described in the Journal Sentinel as not getting much traction.

Lautenschlager Rips State For "Do Nothing" Water Policies

Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager blasts Wisconsin officials for their "do nothing" policy in the wake of Indiana's permission to British Petroleum allowing its Whiting, IN refinery to increase polluted dumping into Lake Michigan.

Lautenschlager is right about Wisconsin's curious and disappointing silence - - something I had noted on this blog almost two weeks ago.

And Lautenschlager mentions the rush to push Lake Michigan water to some Waukesha County suburbs.

While Attorney General, Lautenschlager issued a 20-page opinion saying the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources did not have the authority to approve any diversions of Lake Michigan water without the approval of the other seven Great Lakes states.

I have several times on this blog pointed to Lautenschlager's December, 2006 opinion - - here is the first mention - - and said repeatedly that its existence has been ignored by mainstream media.

And also by the DNR, which is moving willy-nilly towards approving a Lake Michigan diversion to the City of New Berlin - - a diversion specifically mentioned in Lautenschlager's opinion that would require the other states' approval.

(Lautenschlager is now an attorney in private practice in Madison, and made her remarks in an op-ed published by the Madison Capital Times.)


Todd Ambs, the DNR's lead water policy official, said the agency has no written record of any responses from the other states about the New Berlin proposal, or even summaries of the verbal discussions that occurred.

New Berlin's first application in 2006 was criticized harshly by some of the other states as inaccurate and inadequate.

A coalition of Wisconsin environmental and conservation organizations have urged policy-makers to agree that, prior to any diversion approvals, Wisconsin should adopt a strong version of a pending agreement among the Great Lakes states that would establish first-ever diversion standards, conservation requirements and other rules designed to protect Great Lakes water.

But the DNR continues to move in an opposite direction, declining even to hold a public hearing on the New Berlin application, and scheduling instead a barely-publicized public comment period on the application.

We're left with the DNR's word that the other states said the New Berlin application was acceptable.

So maybe the issue isn't just that the state has a "do-nothing" approach to water policy.

It's a "trust-us-while-we-do-whatever-we-want-behind-closed-doors" policy.

And the DNR wonders why it has become such a target, even from groups who strongly support the agency's resource protection mission?

Iraq 'Timetable:' Moving Target, In Their Own Words

The Atlantic has posted the ever-changing 'timetable' for our adventure in, then departure from Iraq, complete with photos and dates offered by our always-wrong leaders.

The site is here: use the scroll bar at the bottom to move through the months and years.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I-35W Bridge Warnings Were Dire, Ignored, Since 1996

Inspectors' reports reviewed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune show dire warnings as early as 1996, including a tilting support pillar.

Some will call this finger-pointing.

You know what? Good. It's an object lesson for governments and inspectors and budget officers in and far from Minnesota.

To treat these matters with more of a sense of urgency.

And to redo transportation spending prioritization - - away from building new highways and adding lane capacity, to inspections, follow-through, repairs and replacement of aging facilities.

In other words: "Fix-it-First."

Exxon Begins To See Validity In Global Warming Science, Cuts Off Funding To Opposition Groups

Even Exxon is beginning to see the light, cutting off funding to some of the climate-change denying groups it had earlier funded.