Streamlining business regulations to detriment of stream lining
Gov. Scott Walker sure does move quickly! I'll give him that, if nothing else. The fresh-faced governor is moving on a bill that would specifically ease water quality regulations for a proposed Bass Pro Shop development in Ashwaubenon.
The change would allow the owner of the land, John Bergstrom (of car dealership fame), to fill in almost two acres of wetlands to build the project.
What's the big deal, you might ask? Surely two measly acres isn't worth getting in a huff over. Wetlands, however, are a crucial facet of healthy ecosystems -- pretty much no matter how small. They provide habitat to several native species of plant, animal and insect. They filter storm water and help prevent flooding, all things that benefit the surrounding communities.
The more wetlands you fill in, the more you increase the risk of damaging flooding and polluted groundwater in a given area.
When Wisconsin was first founded by European settlers, there were an estimated 10 million acres of wetlands in the state. Now, that number has been slashed by nearly 50 percent, to just 5 million acres. All that in just a short 150 years.
The problem with Walker's proposal goes beyond that 2 acre lot, too. As written, the bill appears to apply more broadly to every wetland, "both federal and non-federal," in Brown County, opening the door to larger scale devastation of the natural environment.
Several media outlets and commentators have pointed to the fact that Bergstrom donated a significant chunk of change to the Walker campaign -- but it's worth noting that he also gave to Tom Barrett. I think the more important point hidden in this detail is that it was a hedged bet, since neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be totally immune to the charms of wealthy businessmen.
But our state's rules and regulations shouldn't be written based on the wishes of the moneyed classes. Yes, making it less confusing and cumbersome for businesses to locate in Wisconsin is a great idea. The ends should not, however, come at the means of stripping out important checks on environmental (and financial, ethical, etc.) regulations that help keep the people, flora and fauna healthy.
All part of a pattern
As disappointing as the above story is, it should come as no surprise since the Walker administration hasn't done much to show itself as being very environmentally conscious or caring.
After all, the newly appointed head of the Department of Natural Resources, Cathy Stepp, was an outspoken critic of the agency during her time as a Republican state senator and later went on to help run her family's construction business. The new deputy secretary at the DNR is Matt Moroney is an attorney and former executive director of the Metropolitan Builders of Greater Milwaukee.
While I would agree that having people with experience in the construction/development business help with suggestions for how best to craft regulations that directly affect their livelihoods, I'm not sure I feel comfortable having people with direct, vested interests in those businesses running the show. Rep. Brett Husley compared it to letting Lindsay Lohan run a rehab center (Leave Lindsay alone, Brett!). I prefer the old fox-guarding-the-hen-house adage myself.
Stepp also has the ignominious distinction of having served as co-chair of Rudy Giuliani's Wisconsin campaign. Many of her supporters have touted her credentials as a turkey hunter, but she hasn't bought a license for it since 2002. And don't even get me started on Stepp's now somewhat infamous blog post for Real Debate Wisconsin from October 2007 all about how women in leadership positions need to become more like men in how they operate so that men will actually take them seriously. A choice line from it: "Politics -- more than business -- is predominantly run by men. I never had a problem with that, myself." Good Lord.
Some jobs better than others?
Walker can't stop repeating the word "jobs" but apparently he's only interested in scratching the backs of businesses that scratch him back. Part of all this regulation streamlining actually includes stricter, harder to maneuver regulations regarding wind farms:
Wind power developers on Tuesday called one requirement in the measure to move wind turbines farther from properties than is now required a jobs-killer because it would make new projects too costly.
The bill would require wind turbines to be set back at least 1,800 feet from the nearby properties, which is more restrictive than a recently enacted Public Service Commission rule. That rule would require large turbines to be built at least 1,250 feet from nearby homes.
The wind firms said proposals that would make wind siting more restrictive could send wind developers, and the construction and manufacturing jobs linked to wind power, out of state.
You know, wind farms, those things that not only provide sustainable, clean energy but also create jobs that can't be outsourced and an energy source that doesn't require relying on hostile foreign regimes.
But I guess the wind industry (and presumably solar, bio-fuels, etc.) don't yet have the resources to buy off... err... support Walker and his friends, so why should Wisconsin work to be more welcoming to them? Other than it being the right, smart, long-term successful thing to do.