Ask the Ecologist:

by Belle Bergner

Q: How did the recent election results affect the prognosis for environmental protection in Wisconsin? – Riverwest Eco-Voter

A: In some ways we got a mixed bag in November, but generally we can rejoice that candidates who are more likely to support environmental protection measures were elected. In Federal races, Wisconsin followed a pattern found across the nation: incumbent Democrats, who typically vote to increase or at least support existing environmental protection laws retained their seats in both the US House and Senate. Wisconsin gained one additional Democratic Representative, Steve Kagen. He won Mark Green’s seat in district 8, which Green had vacated to run for Governor.

In the State Legislature, Wisconsin voters also elected more Democrats than Republicans in open races, but the leadership only shifted in the Senate in which Democrats now have majority control (18 Dem. vs. 15 Repub.). Republicans retained control of Wisconsin’s State Assembly (52 Repub. vs. 46 Dem, – 1 still in dispute). But their lead decreased significantly with Democrats narrowing the gap from 19 to 6.

What this will mean for environmental protection is that it will be harder for antienvironmental legislation to pass.

Wisconsin elected a new Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, whose stand on the environment is not encouraging. “I would not spend a thousand dollars to send a DOJ [Department of Justice] employee to a ‘Global Warming Retreat’ in New York, which was nothing more than a seminar on how to harass law abiding businesses,” says Van Hollen on his website [read: let business do what they want]. Doesn’t sound to me like he’ll pursue proactive measures to help the Department of Natural Resources do their job of protecting us from pollutants, or that he’ll engage in environmental lawsuits when necessary, which in many cases is the only way to deal with environmental offenders.

The re-election of Governor Jim Doyle (Democrat) was a big boon to environmental protection in Wisconsin. He has stated several times that it is important to let science guide our environmental laws – not politicians. We can be assured that Doyle supports important conservation measures such as the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and the protection of state-threatened species, but he might still have to battle with the Republican-controlled State Assembly over these and other issues the next four years.

In the end, the results were generally favorable to environmental protection in Wisconsin, but we’ll have to keep our ears to the ground as the State Assembly and Attorney General may try to make it easier for developers to encroach on our natural areas, fill wetlands, eliminate critical habitat for threatened species, and companies to pollute.

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Riverwest Currents online edition – December, 2006