Walker Signs High-Capacity Wells Bill
Good for powerful agriculture interests, bad for the environment.
When Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Thursday a GOP bill that loosens state rules and oversight on controversial high-capacity wells, it was a thank you note to the special interests that support him.
The measure, Senate Bill 76, eliminates state reviews of existing permits for any high-capacity wells when they are repaired, replaced, or sold in a real estate transaction. High-capacity wells allow users, which include large farms, food processors, and frac-sand operations, to pump at least 100,000 gallons of water a day out of the watershed.
Environmentalists, tourism interests, outdoor enthusiasts and property owners who live near high-capacity wells say the wells have caused some rivers, lakes, and streams around the state to shrink or even dry up during the summer, damaging fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
The dozen-plus influential special interests represented by WMC, including business, manufacturing, real estate and construction, contributed $33.2 million between January 2011 and December 2016 to Walker. In addition to direct special interest contributions, WMC has spent an estimated $9.5 million on mostly undisclosed, outside electioneering activities to support Walker’s successful 2010, 2012 and 2014 runs for governor.
The powerful agriculture industry, which is the chief beneficiary of the new law, contributed about $1.8 million to Walker between January 2011 and December 2016. Many of Walker’s largest contributors in the agriculture industry are owners of factory farms and large vegetable farms, which sought the looser regulations, including:
Richard Pavelski, of Naples, Fla., chief executive officer of Heartland Farms in Hancock, Wis., $13,500;
In 2015, Milk Source’s Richfield Dairy in Adams County won a legal challenge in which a state administrative law judge blasted the Department of Natural Resources for using narrow guidelines to assess and grant permits for high-capacity wells.
In addition to their contributions to Walker, several large vegetable growers and other mega farms sharply increased their contributions to GOP legislative fundraising committees during the second half of 2016 and shortly before SB 76 was introduced in February and considered by the GOP-controlled legislature. Large potato and vegetable growers doled out more than $136,000 in individual and corporate campaign contributions in 2016 to current legislators, including about $126,300 to Republicans and $10,250 to Democratic lawmakers.
- The State of Politics: Governor’s Race Influences Budget - Steven Walters - Jun 5th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: Walker Signs High-Capacity Wells Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Jun 3rd, 2017
- Rep. Considine responds to high capacity well vote - State Rep. Dave Considine - May 3rd, 2017
- High-capacity well bill’s passage ensures ongoing groundwater conflicts - Clean Wisconsin - May 2nd, 2017
- Representative Lisa Subeck’s Statement on Assembly Passage of SB 76 - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - May 2nd, 2017
- Op Ed: Water Bill Violates Constitution - State Sen. Mark Miller - Apr 30th, 2017
- SB 76 brings Grassroots groups together in defense of the waters of Wisconsin - Citizens' Water Coalition of Wisconsin - Apr 29th, 2017
- Senator Miller’s Statement on Privatizing Public Waters - State Sen. Mark Miller - Apr 5th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: Big Ag Wants High Capacity Wells - Matt Rothschild - Mar 2nd, 2017
- The State of Politics: Lawmakers Battle Over High Capacity Wells - Steven Walters - Jul 18th, 2016
Read more about SB 76 here