Sunday, May 17, 2015

In Wisconsin, murky water politics

This is one of those days when a blog called "The Political Environment" writes itself.

*  Begin with the outrageous State Capitol maneuver which no one saw coming the other day when the Wisconsin Legislature's powerful budget-writing committee, on a party-line, GOP-led 12-4 vote, banned only Dane County among all 72 Wisconsin counties from participating in water policy decision-making.

Water planning is integral to any County's planning and spending on development, transportation, housing, recreation, public safety - - you name it - - but the Joint Committee on Finance decided to insert the Dane County-only planning barrier into the state budget, a state law, without a real debate, a hearing in and for Dane County, etc.

The legislator who asked the Committee to take the step was State Sen. Howard Marklein, a Spring Green Republican. And he does not represent Dane County - - which just happens to be a wellspring of Democratic voting and environmentalism, - - where grassroots activists have had some recent success recently in slowing development close to Lake Waubesa in the City of Fitchburg, just outside Madison in Dane County.

So good question, Neil Heinen, longtime editorial director at WISC-TV 3 in Madison the other day:
Who is State Sen Marklein looking out for with Dane County water management proposal?
*  Note, also that Marklein got promoted to the State Senate after his party basically forced out the former incumbent, Dale Schultz, a Richland Center farmer and former GOP Senate Majority Leader.

Among Schultz's perceived party sins: blockng his party's steamrolled, an industry-supported-and-written bill to substantially ease existing law and enable the digging of a massive open-pit iron ore mine in the water-rich and pristine Penokee Hills close to Lake Superior.

And over the objections of many in the mining zone, including the Bad River Ojibwe reservation and its traditional wild rice-bearing watery sloughs downstream from what would have been thirty-five years of blasting, digging, ground-water draining, ore-milling and trucking in and out of a pit a half-mile wide and a thousand feet deep that was to run for miles.

The GOP Senate leadership was so pro-mining that it cancelled a hearing and abolished a special committee it had set up to consider the matter, and refused to consider a bi-partisan compromise co-sponsored by Schultz that would have given iron mining proposals more adequate reviews and citizen input procedures.

Among the key legislators promoting the bill was State Rep. and now-Senator Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst - - who, like the outsider Marklein to Dane County's water issues - - did not represent Iron or Ashland Counties where the proposed mine would have been located, though records showed he was carrying political water for Walker and the mining company itself.
Wisconsin's environment imperiled by Scott Walker. Click the photo for more information.
And we all learned later that the mining company security routed $700,000 to benefit Walker's 2012 recall campaign - - which Schultz said later was sad, but not surprising 

The mining company eventually abandoned its plan - -  though the sweetheart law it wanted remains on the books - - because it discovered what everyone had always known - - the area's water resources are fundamentally incompatible with open pit mining in a rainy, snowy watershed.

But it's interesting that the mining plan and its politics played a role in Schultz's departure from the Senate and paved the way for Marklein to move up in the Legislature and position himself against the water and planning rights and prerogatives of local residents.

Talk about a bad bill that keeps on taking.

When you see this unabashed power-politicking over water and development and disregard for the environment and conservation right now in Wisconsin - - and I'd include Walker's surprise budget proposals to freeze open space and habitat purchases by the Stewardship Fund for thirteen years, end all general operating funding for state parks, layoff DNR scientists and, separately, the possible termination of local county ag agents - it's fair to look the upbeat story Don Behm wrote recently in the Journal Sentinel about treaty status protections conferred on sensitive Wisconsin Door County wetlands and say, 'Well, I guess you need an international treaty these days to protect the Wisconsin environment.'

Then you realize that the Ojibwe rice-growing sloughs are also covered by the same treaty, yet Wisconsin was willing to put them at risk with the mining bill, so if Walker became President...

1 comment:

Doorman60 said...

This Wisconsin GOP is a runaway train. My sincere hope is that they crash and burn.