Environmental protections take a hit
On July 12, Governor Walker signed the biennial budget bill into law. The budget bill is the most comprehensive and sweeping bill passed during every legislative session, and it impacts every facet of state government. It is the only bill that must be signed into law every session.
This budget’s impact on natural resources issues is vast. Clean Wisconsin monitored and evaluated all environmental policies in the budget, working with environmental partner groups, members and legislators to make changes or offer support on certain items. We were able to help mitigate several of the most egregious cuts that were first proposed in this budget process, and had some victories. For instance, partially restoring important natural resource programs like Stewardship and county conservation staff were significant victories forged by deep partnerships and investments by many environmental and conservation groups. While there were many other issues we spent time on, some of the highlights and lowlights include:
- Restores $3.5 million to polluted runoff management efforts including funding for nonpoint runoff grants and county land and water conservation staff that serve as the boots on the ground for waterway protection.
- Funds the land-purchasing Stewardship program at $33 million to continue land protection efforts.
- Retains decision-making authority of the Natural Resources Board rather than relegating the Board to advisory.
- Protects the Focus on Energy fund, which helps deliver energy efficiency grants, loans and expertise to homeowners and businesses.
- Restores a proposed cut to parks funding, but makes Wisconsin’s parks system the only one in the nation to be run solely by user fees, with no state commitment, which is an unsustainable model.
- Requires a duplicative study on the health impacts of wind energy, despite the fact that a study was just completed last fall by the Wind Siting Council. That study was unable to conclude that wind turbines have a direct and negative effect on human health.
- Removes ability of counties to enact shoreland zoning standards that are stronger than the state, removing local control over the protection of lake and river shores.
- Cuts 18.4 DNR Science Services staff and 11 DNR Educator positions that conduct research on issues impacting natural resource management and engage citizens and students.
- Eliminates $8 million in state funding per year for UW-Madison’s Bioenergy Initiative, one of only three such research programs in the nation
- Cuts $4 million from recycling program that goes to support curbside recycling pickup and management
- Reduces money available for citizen-based groups like Clean Wisconsin that receive funding to make sure the environmental and ratepayer voice is heard in utility proceedings before the Public Service Commission.
There is no doubt these cuts will impact the work we do to protect our air and water. But Clean Wisconsin will continue to be your environmental voice: Building our science and research team to make up for the lack of focus at the state level, and continuing to build relationships with decision-makers who are willing to stand up and fight for Wisconsin’s environment, and hold those who don’t accountable through our legal team and political arm.