Defend Wisconsin News Round Up

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Our Political Environment

When I originally got involved in environmental protection, I had no idea that it would also involve politics. I mean, who would think that our health and environment would be a political issue? Everyone is interested in a clean environment, it's something we all agree on, right? Clean water, air and soil are basic human needs, and protecting these resources should be top priority. Wow, was I in for an education. My first bout with environmental protection being a political issue had to do with Wisconsin's tipping fees. These are the fees that garbage haulers pay to dump their trash in our state. Wisconsin's fees are, and have been for years, ridiculously low in comparison to our neighboring states - making it a no-brainer for those who don't live here, to deposit their trash here - on the cheap. There are so many screwy arguments in favor of this policy (most based on money), but on the common sense level, why on earth would we want to become the Midwest's dumping grounds? I was baffled to read that 99% of republican assemblyman in 2007 voted NOT to raise our tipping fees - which would have basically made it less attractive for other states to dump here. Against it? What? As a resident of Janesville, our landfill accepted hundreds of thousands of tons of other people's trash before I could finally convince our local officials and City Council that this issue is NOT just about the money. Local residents should get a choice in the matter - do we want to pay for our own landfill, or let others dump, potentially toxic materials, in our backyard so we wouldn't have to pay a buck a week for pick up? I emailed each and every Assemblyman, and received back 3 responses. Two said their decision was based on income for local economies that wanted to "sell" their landfill space, and the third stated that he didn't have to talk to me because I was not his constituent. NOT HIS CONSTITUENT? Decisions made by every single Assemblyman and Senator affect every single resident of the State of Wisconsin.
In the newest battle concerning garbage, Governor Scott Walker has de-funded Cities that offer curbside recycling programs. Where these communities used to receive subsidies to offset costs to recycle according to the State of Wisconsin's recycling law, they will now be forced to re-think their curbside programs. On top of that, the DNR Secretary that Walker appointed has a background in building and development, NOT in natural resources management. WHAT? A person put in charge of protecting our environment that has no knowledge or experience in natural resources management? "I wanted someone with a chamber of commerce mentality" Walker stated. The chamber of commerce specifically works with businesses, and the DNR works to protect the environment, most of the time, from businesses.
There is also an effort to defund the PACE program for farmland preservation, even with American farmers having to produce more and more food to feed the growing world - the efforts will be centered on bringing manufacturing to our lands, instead of preserving the soils for farming.
On a national level, the US House of Representatives has passed budget cuts for the EPA by one third. Among other things, the proposed cuts could prevent the protection of the public from the effects of mountaintop mining, prevent the public from reviewing offshore drilling permits, allow oil companies to get exemptions to the Clean Air Act when drilling in the Arctic, and prevent the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. "This proposal nearly abolishes the EPA. It would jeopardize the safety and quality of our air, water and public lands for generations to come," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
Further, cuts to the FDA will not assure the safety of meats and monitor foreign-produced food arriving at our ports. Programs for federal meat inspection, international food safety inspection and state food safety inspection will be hard hit. (remember my article about "country of origin"?)
There are many, like me, that didn't want to get involved in politics. But it turns out, that the government makes the minimum rules that companies have to follow to protect our health and environment. Sure, once in awhile you will run across a company that does the right thing, regardless of cost to shareholders or cuts into profits, but these incidents are few and far between. It's up to us to demand that our government create laws that protect this fragile planet. If we poison all the water, build on all of the soils, and contaminate the air, then where is it that people think we are going next?

by Julie Backenkeller for Rock Environmental Network, Inc.

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