Republicans have always relished the idea of exploiting the mineral and fossil fuel treasures contained within the borders of our state and federal parks. Thank god we have laws protecting these natural gifts for all future generations to see and enjoy.
But in Wisconsin, under Republican Scott Walker’s watch, we are seeing what would happen if they had the chance to live out their fantasy. As Salon explains in this nicely researched piece:
How Scott Walker dismantled Wisconsin’s environmental legacy: He and his allies in the Republican-controlled legislature have said that such policy shifts will streamline regulations that they say interfere with business development. Since taking office in 2011 Walker has:
Moved to reduce the role of science in environmental policy making and to silence discussion of controversial subjects, including climate change, by state employees.
And he has presided over a series of controversial rollbacks in environmental protection, including relaxing laws governing iron mining and building on wetlands, in both cases to help specific companies avoid regulatory roadblocks.
Among other policy changes, he has also loosened restrictions on phosphorus pollution in state waterways, tried to restrict wind energy development and proposed ending funding for a major renewable energy research program housed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Walker has targeted the science and educational corps at the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), he proposed eliminating a third of the DNR’s 58 scientist positions and 60 percent of its 18 environmental educator positions.
Walker also attempted to convert the citizen board that sets policy for the DNR to a purely advisory body and proposed a 13-year freeze on the state’s popular land conservation fund—both changes that lawmakers rejected in the face of intense public objections.
Looking back at Walker’s first breathtakingly brutal attack on the environment, still doesn’t seem real to me:
One of the biggest environmental controversies to mark Walker’s tenure came in 2013, when he signed a law paving the way for Gogebic Taconite, a mining company later revealed to be a major political donor … Gogebic helped write the new law, which allows companies to dump mine waste into nearby wetlands, streams and lakes; doubles the area around a mine that a company can pollute; allows the DNR to exempt any company from any part of the law; and strips citizens of the right to sue mining companies for illegal environmental damage. Where the old law specified that mining should impact wetlands as little as possible, the new one says that significant adverse impacts on wetlands are presumed to be necessary.
Yes, it really does say that in the bill. But Walker’s quest to turn Wisconsin into the environmental trash heap of the Midwest started when he made his pledge to two guys not even from the state:
In 2008 before he was governor, he signed the Koch-backed “No Climate Tax Pledge,” vowing to oppose any climate legislation … In 2014 he appointed a utility commissioner who said in a confirmation hearing that “the elimination of essentially every automobile would be offset by one volcano exploding,” a remark he later recanted. In February a child asked Walker what he would do about climate change if he were president. Walker’s reply: as a Boy Scout he believed in leaving his campsite cleaner than when he found it … this spring Wisconsin joined 13 other states in a lawsuit challenging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.
Former Republican state senator Dale Schultz: “Some days I look at Governor Walker and I just see a guy who’s afraid of the mob,” Schultz says. “He helped create it, he fosters it, but then he’s also fearful of it.”
Walker appointed former Republican state senator and construction-company owner Cathy Stepp as DNR secretary, explaining that he wanted “someone with a chamber-of-commerce mentality.” Stepp publicly derided DNR staff as “unelected bureaucrats who have only their cubicle walls to bounce ideas off of” and who thus “tend to come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with.”
Walker go to man?
Walker’s proposal to shrink the DNR’s scientific capacity appears to have been the brainchild of Tom Tiffany, a GOP state senator who is a longtime critic of the DNR’s science bureau. In May he confirmed on a regional radio program that he requested Gov. Walker cut the DNR scientist, educator and communications positions. Tiffany said he thinks the agency’s scientists have a wildlife management “agenda” that has driven the agency to mismanage the deer herd, curtailing sportsmen’s hunting opportunities. He has also said he believes the agency’s scientists spend too much time on controversial subjects like climate change, which he views as “theoretical.”The article didn't mention it, but Tiffany wanted to take all local governmental challenges away that could stop or slow down future mining activity.
And finally, just as important: Walker also cutoff taxpayer support of our state parks.
Check out this article from Scientific American, that provided much of the research.