There are many reasons Scott Walker should not be elected to a third term: education cuts, corporate giveaways, crumbling infrastructure, and a declining middle class to name a few. But perhaps topping the list of why the governor should be defeated is the decimation of our state’s once-proud legacy of conservation of our natural resources.
Wisconsin’s scenic beauty, great natural diversity, abundant wildlife, and plentiful water resources are a blessing that generations in our state have worked hard to safeguard. That bipartisan commitment to thoughtful stewardship of our outdoors has been gutted by Walker. Long is the list of legal protections for our air, water and land that have been repealed or severely weakened by Walker.
One of the worst aspects of Walker’s assault on our environment has been the evisceration of enforcement of our conservation laws, especially the knee-capping of the Department of Natural Resources. A prime recent example of the dramatic transformation of the DNR under Walker from environmental watchdog to polluter lapdog is the recent attempt by DNR to overturn a court ruling that protects groundwater in central Wisconsin. The court stopped the drilling of several large corporate wells that threatened to lower groundwater levels, drain lakes and dry up trout streams.
You would expect the DNR, as the custodian of our public waters, to applaud the court’s action. However, Walker’s DNR did just the opposite. Instead of seeking to protect our waterways, the DNR is asking the court to ignore the constitutional provision that requires state government to protect our water resources. Walker’s DNR is actually seeking to allow corporations to extract large quantities of groundwater regardless of the cumulative impact on the environment. A judge reviewing the lack of action by Walker’s DNR to protect drinking water in Kewaunee County concluded that the DNR inaction "represented a massive regulatory failure to protect groundwater."
Enforcement actions against polluters have fallen precipitously under Walker. The number of cases referred for prosecution for violation of pollution standards has decreased by more than half. Campaign contributors who pollute get off easy. For example, Republican campaign donor 3M Corporation was let off without any financial penalty despite numerous air pollution violations at its Wausau plant. Another GOP funder who illegally dumped human sewerage next to drinking water wells faced a minimal fine — not even a slap on the wrist.
With the collusion of the Republican controlled Legislature, Walker has weakened protections for Wisconsin’s water resources. Thousands of acres of wetlands — areas crucial to flood control and wildlife — now face destruction. The governor and Legislature have delayed for 20 years limitations on phosphorus pollution, the cause of excess algae and weed growth in our lakes and rivers. Protections for our lakeshores have been weakened. Walker's made it easier for a foreign company to pipe tar sands oil across the breadth of the state. That foreign company, Enbridge Inc., spilled almost a million gallons of the dirty oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, severely polluting 35 miles of the waterway.
Walker’s assault on our outdoors often benefits those who fund his campaigns. Walker’s administration has given away state park and forest land to campaign contributors. Laws to protect our waters from damage from mining have been repealed, again at the request of campaign contributors.
Walker has sharply cut funding for protecting land for wildlife and recreation. He has even eliminated all state funding for our beloved state parks.
For decades, Wisconsin was a national conservation leader — in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Scott Walker has abandoned that bipartisan legacy. Voters should abandon him next November.
Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He currently serves as a director of the national Sierra Club and is an adjunct professor of urban and regional planning at UW-Madison.
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