Monday, September 10, 2007

Wisconsin Legislative Study Begins To Weaken Great Lakes Legislation

Talk about the left hand completely missing the signal from the right:

While Wisconsin's two US Senators are leading an effort to find out just why the Great Lakes levels are declining, the state legislative committee putting together a bill to implement the pending Great Lakes Compact is going in the opposite direction:

It made weakening a key water conservation provision its first recommendation, reports the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

In June, I posted an analysis of the committee's work to that point, cataloguing a wasted year of delay, primarily caused by the committee's top-heavy Waukesha County delegation stalling and undermining the Compact's conservation and regional goals.

I said at the time that extending the committee past its then-looming sunset date was a mistake.

Now the committee is rushing to complete its work by tossing consensus decision-making out the window in favor of voting, giving the Waukesha delegation and other anti-compact forces that are out to water down or destroy the agreement altogether an unfair and undeservedly-held upper hand.

Little wonder that Gov. Jim Doyle has appointed a parallel working group to produce Wisconsin's bill, since he is the chairman of the Great Lakes governors organization that drafted the Compact and could hardly go back to his counterparts with a weakened bill.

Signed in 2005 by the eight US Great Lakes governors and two Canadian provincial premiers in Milwaukee, the Compact is designed to preserve Great Lakes waters through conservation, limited diversions away from the lakes and regulated new large withdrawals by communities within the Great Lakes basin boundaries.

The first states to ratify the Compact, Illinois and Minnesota, didn't adopt changes that would weaken the document - - which can only take effect if all the states ratify the same language.

Here's what the Green Bay paper said in its Saturday, September 9th roundup of news from Madison:

"Great Lakes committee makes waves

"A special committee voted on Tuesday to raise thresholds for consumptive uses of Great Lakes water for in-basin users, a move opposed by conservation groups.

"The Great Lakes Water Resources Compact committee was expected to wrap up its work Tuesday and recommend legislation that would allow the state to ratify and implement the Great Lakes compact. But, instead, the group scheduled another meeting for Sept. 14.

"The Coalition to Protect the Great Lakes — comprised of 14 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters — is calling for tighter restrictions on the baseline compact.

"At least two coalition members who serve on the special committee left Tuesday's meeting in frustration after the vote was taken, said Anne Sayers, program director for the league of conservation voters.

"She said the vote to raise the threshold would result in the ability to withdraw excess water, and that the baselines would be set "so high that they wouldn't actually apply" to any Wisconsin communities.

"The baseline compact says there should be conservation plans," said Sayers. "What we're asking for is something more specific about what exactly those conservations plans attempt to do, and who does them."

"State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Allouez, who serves on the committee, said he viewed the amendment as a weakening of the compact. "

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