Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wisconsin's Great Lakes Compact Bill Also Helps Big Lake Superior Users; And An Earth Day Signing?

Much of the attention following last week's 'breakthrough' compromise on a Great Lakes Compact implementation bill for Wisconsin focused on the easier paths it will create for water diversions from Lake Michigan to communities like New Berlin and Waukesha that are partially or completely outside the Great Lakes basin.

And, by boosting the economies of communities west of Milwaukee, will expand the disparities in wealth between land-locked Milwaukee and the sprawling western suburbs - - unless those suburban communities obtaining Lake Michigan diversions from Milwaukee agree to payments for water that reflect its contribution to those suburbs' tax bases.

Overlooked to a degree in the wake of the compromise: the original bill that passed the State Senate 26-6, and that is scheduled for final approval with amendments that promote diversions and eliminate some conservation requirements, guarantees water access to very large users that are within the Great Lakes, not outside of it.

One such example that the Senate drafters had in mind: Murphy Oil.

The company will need in the range of 5 million gallons a day for its boosted refining operations if its $6 billion expansion to process Canadian tar sand crude oil gets the green light from company executives and government regulators.

The Senate bill was written with certain thresholds to make sure a project the size of Murphy's operations would be able to access that much water, a fact duly noted by media in northern Wisconsin, where the refinery expansion promises employment.

Much of the water would be returned to Lake Superior, but a substantial portion would be lost in the refinery's industrial processes.

A recent business publication noted that refining tar sand crude releases a relatively large amount of greenhouse gas; the extraction of the oil in the Alberta, Canada wilderness, requiring massive amounts of water, energy and pipeline corridors, has been dubbed "the most destructive project on earth."

And let's not forget that the expansion at Superior by Murphy is expected to require the largest filling of wetlands in Wisconsin - - 400-500 acres, sources indicate - - since the adoption of the US Clean Water Act of 1972.

This projected water demands of the refinery expansion at Superior and its potential impact on the lake and the nearby wetlands is especially troubling because more and more scientific data is accumulating about Lake Superior's falling levels due due to warming temperatures.

It's good to understand the entire context of development issues in and near the Great Lakes, and their connections to national, international and global issues.

A lot is at stake, from jobs in Wisconsin, to the state's energy mix, to the relative benefits of petroleum-based development and the coming wave in renewable energy generation - - wind, tidal, various ethanols, solar and conservation.

The Detroit Free Press carried a story about Lake Superior's level decrease just a day after Wisconsin's Gov. Jim Doyle and a brace of legislators, local officials and some environmental activists gathered in New Berlin to hail the Compact implementing compromise now scheduled for approval at a special legislative session April 17th.

The compromise bill does approve the Compact, but the implementing bill is a weak shadow of what originally went through the Senate, especially on the giveback of statewide conservation plans and the lack of clarity on conservation requirements in communities seeking diversions.

And that's without the Murphy Oil considerations.

Some sponsors of the bill are hoping for an April 22nd, Earth Day signing.

Spare us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no way the bill gets signed into law on Earth Day. The Houses are not meeting this week so the best they could do is pass the bill on Earth Day, by my estimation, but not sign it.