Wednesday, April 30, 2008

End The Blackout On Key AG Water Opinion

For a year, I have posted items on this blog about a crucial document ignored by the state's traditional media - - a heavily annotated opinion about Great Lakes water diversion law written in 2006 by then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.

The opinion lays out what the law says Wisconsin officials can and cannot do, and should and should not do when reviewing or approving diversions of water out of the the Great Lakes basin.

You can read the opinion in full, here.

In a nutshell, the opinion says that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the State of Wisconsin cannot open the spigots and move water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin without the approval of the other Great Lakes states.

Yet that very thing has happened twice in Wisconsin: once in 1989 for Pleasant Prairie, and again in 1999 for Menomonee Falls, facilitated by Wisconsin state officials.

Those precedents should not be repeated by state officials or be moralized into state statutes a) because they didn't meet the demands of the law, and b) because if Wisconsin wants to cite them as valid, then they could be similarly used by other states as the basis for moving water outside of the Great Lakes basin, creating net water losses across the Great Lakes - - including in Wisconsin.

Yet some policy-makers in and around the State Capitol, as they are working to establish water policies statewide, want to embed those precedents as valid diversion guides into a bill passed along with legislative approval of the pending Great Lakes Compact.

And the policy-makers are able to consider this option because a) the Lautenschlager opinion has been undercovered by media, and b) Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource officials have repeatedly said they believe the DNR, based on its past practice, can approve diversions of Great Lakes water without the approval of the others states.

A lengthy commentary on the DNR's arrogation of authority is here.

It would be foolhardy to reward bad procedure and put those predecents into Wisconsin law at the very moment the state is joining the Great Lakes Compact, and thus agreeing to standard diversion procedures.

It would would undermine the cooperative nature of the Compact, and invite litigation from the other Great Lakes states.

If a stunt like that is pulled by the state legislature, why would the other states do business with us?

Ending the journalistic denial surrounding the AG opinion would be a public service.

And it would help everyone grasp the need for sound, legal-and-fact-based legislating, giving the Great Lakes Compact and its conservation principles their proper grounding in our state.

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