Guest Commentary: Earth Day or April Fools Day?

By Representatives Chris Taylor and Gordon Hintz
Wisconsin State Legislature

As former Wisconsin Governor, U.S. Senator and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson once said, “The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”

A simple yet profound statement.

From Wisconsin’s nearly $60 billion agriculture industry that puts food on our tables to the nearly $18 billion in annual tourism revenue that’s injected into our state’s economy – these are just two of the many industries whose success heavily relies on the quality and quantity of our natural resources.  Wisconsin has a rich heritage of natural resources including a thriving tourism, forestry, fishing and hunting industries that we should be proud of and work to protect.

While this seems so simple to us, it’s a concept that Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature cannot seem to wrap their heads around.  Just this week, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) delivered notices to 57 employees, nearly half of which work in the Bureau of Science Services, announcing they may be laid off due to the Republican’s abandonment of their responsibility to manage and conserve our natural resources in a scientifically sound manner.

Furthermore, despite our Democratic efforts on the Joint Finance Committee, the GOP approved the elimination of 13 additional Fish and Wildlife Management positions funded by the Fish and Wildlife Fund.  This fund has been insolvent for years despite a willingness from hunting, fishing and conservation groups to pay more in fees.  And the irony of it all, is they did it on Earth Day!

One thing we’ve seen time and time again is that the GOP thinks they know more than the experts.  From their plans to fire scientists at the DNR to rejecting our amendment in Joint Finance last week that would require the Public Service Commission (PSC) to analyze “peer reviewed” studies on wind energy instead of the junk science they so often submit to.

In another last minute stunt in Joint Finance, the Republican members of JFC gutted an annual grant to the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), slashing funds for the Intervenor Compensation Fund and will now require a 50 percent match for consumer groups and representatives participating in PSC hearings.  In 2014 alone, CUB helped keep more than $161 million in the ratepayers pockets.  For every ratepayer dollar that CUB received, it helped save customers more than $350.  Ratepayers will continue to subsidize all costs utilities incur when they attempt to raise utility rates.

We are honored to serve on the Joint Finance Committee and over the last several months we have traveled Wisconsin listening to the residents of our great state.  The people aren’t telling us to fire the scientists, they’re telling us to hire them!  The people aren’t telling us to abandon our conservation history, but to continue to invest in it.  The people aren’t telling us to make it harder for the public to participate in ratepayer cases before the PSC.  The people aren’t telling us to stop investing in the Stewardship Program, they want it to grow! We promise to continue fighting for the people of Wisconsin and vow to protect our precious natural resources in the weeks and months ahead.

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