Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Wisconsin Ignores Climate Change

Republicans join Koch Brothers, opposing actions to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans made national news recently for taking an audacious stand: In a statement bashing President Barack Obama’s “nanny-state” climate-change initiatives, the state campus group argued that this is an issue the GOP should address.

“It is time we apply conservative principles to climate policy,” the statement said, quoting a member who predicted, “Wisconsin will lead.”

That may be overly optimistic. A recent study ranked Wisconsin 19th in the nation for clean-energy leadership, behind all four of its Midwest neighbors.

Of the more than 600 bills introduced in Wisconsin’s 2013-14 legislative session, none contains the terms “climate change,” “greenhouse gases” or “global warming,” and only a handful deal with energy policy.

A mostly Democrat-backed bill calling on state facilities to generate or buy 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025 has not advanced: no hearings, no committee action. Current law sets the goal at 20 percent by the end of 2011. The actual level in 2012 was 15.6 percent.

State Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, plans to introduce an “Energy Jobs Fund” bill this fall. It would create a revolving loan fund to make government buildings more efficient, paid back “through the realized energy savings.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have introduced bills to ease a mandate that electric providers use more renewables and let local governments enact tougher rules for wind-power systems than those in state law.

Environmentalist Spencer Black, who logged 26 years in the Assembly as a Madison Democrat, says that while states like California have taken major steps to address climate change, Wisconsin is “going the opposite way, making it harder to have renewable energy in this state.”

He blames this on Republicans who have “coalesced against anything that would limit the use of fossil fuels.” He says that’s because the industry has spent millions of dollars trying to create confusion over the danger posed by climate change.

Yet even when Democrats ran the show, in 2010, they weren’t able to pass a bill introduced by Black and backed by then-Gov. Jim Doyle calling for new emission controls, along with renewable energy and conservation mandates. Dubbed the “Clean Energy Jobs Act,” the bill and its Senate companion generated 15,200 hours of reported lobbying activity, more than anything else that legislative session.

The green group Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade, a proponent, logged 1,674 hours. The business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, registered in opposition, put in 1,111 hours.

Lobby groups representing the energy company Koch Industries and its subsidiary, Georgia Pacific, invested 1,124 hours. Their official position: “Undisclosed.” Koch Industries is run by billionaire oil barons David and Charles Koch.

Now the Koch-funded advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has crafted a “No Climate Tax Pledge” for state and national politicians, committing them to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

The pledge has more that 400 signers, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy, Reid Ribble and Jim Sensenbrenner, state Sens. Alberta Darling, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, and state Reps. Dale Kooyenga, Bill Kramer, Jim Ott and Don Pridemore, all Republicans.

As governor, Walker has nixed a high-speed train, UW-Madison biofuels plant, state renewable energy initiatives and the state Office of Energy Independence.

Asked about climate change, Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster writes: “The governor believes the focus in protecting our natural resources should be science-based and predictable. He believes you can ensure Wisconsin has clean air, clean land and clean water, while still fostering a positive business climate.”

Spokespeople for state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not respond to requests for comment.

If the College Republicans want Wisconsin to lead in this area, they have their work cut out.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by The Joyce Foundation.

 The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

6 thoughts on “Wisconsin Ignores Climate Change”

  1. Dean Deardurff says:

    What is wrong with natural gases? Where their is an abundance of energy.
    Renewable resources? I see.. you would take food away from the planet that sustains all forms of life in order to save the planet…Where in this world can you SO proof of the so called climate change? Agenda 21? Isn’t it enough that your for killing children, are future. Whats next? The elderly..With hussein care..
    This world would be better off if we eliminate all liberals from the planet. They have no morals, that is necessary to sustain a civil society. SAVE the children , eliminate a liberal

  2. Dave G says:

    Comparing Wisconsin to the states whose economies are in the tank like Illinios and California does little to advance the arguement.

  3. Dave K. says:

    I think republicans should take a business approach to the situation. Pouring unlimited greenhouse gasses is a cost, it’s currently an unaccounted for cost, but it is a cost nonetheless. It’s also a potential liability. Think about the paper mills that dumped tons and tons of PCBs into the environment and waterways. Similarly, there are brownfield examples all over the US that have a history of dumping toxins into the environment. There is a cost to that, whether it is realized now, or in the next generation. There needs to be a way to determine the real cost of those pollutants, and the real potential liability that companies face when they do it. The cost of the waste should act as a disincentive for utilizing these fossil fuels as we have been and act as an incentive for new technologies to scrub the waste out before we dump it, or find new fuel sources. As of now, companies like BP, Koch, etc. are enjoying a false economy where not all of the costs are being borne by the group that is producing them. In the end we’ll all be paying these costs.

  4. Todd Spangler says:

    I think environmentalists are missing the larger point that there is no sign that the use of fossil fuels is slowing worldwide, other than I note there has been some decline in gasoline consumption in the US. Most notably, I would direct them to articles such as one I read in the Wednesday Wall Street Journal on the significant decline in the price of uranium over the past year or two, much of this related to the efforts underway to reduce the use of nuclear power in Japan, Germany, and France. It’s hard to grasp how these countries are going to replace that relatively enormous quanitity of energy generated with such a low carbon footprint as nuclear energy tends to have without some additional use of fossil fuels. We can go ahead and torpedo the economies of our individual states and the nation by going to higher cost alternative energy sources if we so choose, but I hardly expect every other large industrial nation to do likewise.

  5. Tyrell Track Master says:

    More mind numbing comments…. Even if climate change were not a problem (which, sadly is not the case) it would still be far more profitable in the long run to move away from coal. Use Natural Gas as a temporary bridge but the ultimate goal is efficiency and true renewables. The state has no way to benefit from fossil fuels because there are none in WI. Wind and solar on the other hand are abundant – especially if we get floating wind turbines offshore. It’s insane that none of this is being talked about.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Dave and Tyrell, thank you for your comments. It is important that we start to look at the “hidden” costs of doing business as usual.

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