The Greatest Environmental Victories of the Decade

, By Clean Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s largest environmental organization counts down the top victories of the 2000s

MADISON — As 2009 comes to a close, Clean Wisconsin celebrates the monumental progress made in the last 10 years by counting down the five greatest environmental victories of the decade.

“In the last 10 years, our state has passed laws and made progress that will help ensure our air and water remain clean and healthy for generations to come,” said Mark Redsten, executive director of Clean Wisconsin. “From policies that reduce toxic mercury pollution in our lakes, rivers and streams, to treaties that protect the Great Lakes and laws that encourage the growth of clean energy, many of the advancements of the last 10 years create a legacy that will positively impact our environment and our people for centuries.”

In a decade teeming with progress, the top five environmental victories impacting Wisconsin between 2000 and 2010 include:

  • Passage and Signing of the Great Lakes Compact (2008): This long-negotiated historic agreement between eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces to not divert water outside the Great Lakes Basin became effective in 2008 after passing Wisconsin’s legislature and being ratified by the federal government. The Compact protects one of the world’s most magnificent natural resources, the Great Lakes, both by ensuring their water remains in the basin and by developing a framework for Great Lakes states and provinces to work together to restore and protect these natural wonders.
  • Laws and Policies to Reduce Toxic Mercury Pollution (2004, 2008 and 2009): Mercury from coal plants and other sources pollutes Wisconsin’s waters and negatively affects human health when individuals consume fish. Chronic exposure to this toxic substance results in memory loss, vision and speech difficulties, and cardiovascular problems in adults. Children and the unborn exposed to mercury can face neurological damage that impairs development, leads to low intelligence and inhibits school performance. In 2004, Wisconsin became the first state to pass a law requiring mercury reduction from coal-fired power plants. These mercury reduction efforts were increased in 2008 when legal requirements were strengthened, and again in 2009 when a bill effectively banning mercury in non-essential products became law.
  • Passage of the Wisconsin Clean Energy Act (2006): This act makes a major commitment to clean energy resources and takes an important step toward keeping electric and heating bills affordable for state residents. The efficiency investments resulting from this bill save Wisconsin businesses and homeowners more than $200,000,000 each year. It also increased renewable energy production requirements for utilities, helping to reduce toxic pollution, lower global warming pollution, and encourage the growth of a clean energy economy.
  • Settlement Agreement Funding 25 Years of Lake Michigan Restoration and Protection (2008): Clean Wisconsin, working with the Sierra Club, settled a lawsuit with We Energies over a cooling system at its Elm Road Generating Station coal plant. This settlement will provide $4 million annually for 25 years to help restore and protect our precious lake. This funding will result in cleaner water, increased tourism, job creation, and a greater enjoyment of Lake Michigan for our residents.
  • Wisconsin’s First Rejection of an Application to Build Another Dirty Coal Plant (2008): In November of 2008, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission rejected Alliant Energy’s proposal to build another conventional coal plant, the dirtiest source of power production. This vote marked the first time in state history a proposal to build a conventional coal plant has been rejected and provides the foundation for building a clean energy economy in the state.

“The environmental progress of the last 10 years is something we should all take great pride in, however, there is still much work to be done,” said Redsten. “Now that we know the water of the Great Lakes is here to stay, we must work to improve and protect its water quality. We must pass strong reform that will reduce global warming pollution, reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, and build a strong clean energy economy. Finally, we must continually strive to reduce the pollutants that enter our air and water to ensure future generations enjoy an environment as beautiful and bountiful as the one we now know.”

Clean Wisconsin is the state’s largest environmental organization and will celebrate four decades of environmental advocacy this April.