Wisconsin environmental policy has evolved over decades, policy expert criticizes administrations | WUWM 89.7 FM

Governor Tony Evers will serve a second term after defeating GOP challenger Tim Michels in last week’s midterm elections.

Michels said he doesn’t believe in man-made climate change.

In contrast, during his first term, Evers established the state’s first office focused on sustainability and environmental justice and established advisory groups to address chemicals and climate change.

Natural resource policy has undergone many changes over the past few decades as more research has become available and the office of governor has changed hands and parties.

Todd Ambs and his dog Archie.

Todd Ambs saw it all unfold. Earlier this year, he resigned as assistant secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources after a decades-long career in water policy.

Ambs shares some thoughts on the climate and environmental track records of past Wisconsin administrations.

Governor Tommy Thompson 1987 – 2001

“Tommy Thompson was very supportive of the stewardship program (Knowles-Nelson) stewardship program this very strong bipartisan support,” says Ambs.

Governor Thompson also supported the creation of the Lower Wisconsin River. Years of preparation, the project resulted in the “longest stretch of free-flowing river in the Midwest. This 45,000-acre property stretches along 92 miles of the Prairie du Sac River at its confluence with the Mississippi River. . (Wisconsin DNR)“rich in fauna, fisheries, historical and archaeological sites.

Ambs says Thompson was also known for a few controversial issues.

“One was his effort in 1995 with the legislature to remove the DNR secretary from a board-appointed position to a cabinet position,” Ambs said. “And there were a lot of things around the Crandon mine. Ultimately, the moratorium that was passed by the Legislature on metal mining was something that was eventually supported by Thompson, but it was very debatable before that.”

Governor Jim Doyle 2003-2011

Ambs, who led the state’s water division for most of the Doyle era, describes the tone of the legislature during that time as acrimonious.

He says there were efforts within the state legislature to roll back regulations, especially water-related regulations.

At the same time, Governor Doyle supported the first steps in recognizing and addressing climate change in Wisconsin. “That’s when the Wisconsin Climate Change Initiative was created,” says Ambs.

Doyle also helped forge the Great Lakes Pactdesigned to promote a sustainable water management system for the region and prohibit diversion outside the basin, with some exceptions.

“This effort was led by Bob Taft, Governor of Ohio and Jim Doyle, Governor of Wisconsin. A Republican Governor from Ohio and a Democratic Governor from Wisconsin led this effort into one of the most important compacts for water, not just in the United States, but around the world,” says Ambs.

Governor Scott Walker 2011-2019

Ambs says Governor Walkers open to business mantra has signaled a sea change in the management of natural resources in the state.

“On top of that, you had an even more conservative group of people in the state legislature who were leading the effort to roll back regulations… Wetland regulations and mining regulations and to bring in changes to forest laws,” said Ambs.

LILY New wetland rules start rolling out

“I would say that one of the key elements of the various previous administrations has always had some kind of initiative of some kind that was to improve some aspect of natural resource management. But again, as the motto suggests, focusing on those things, which were seen as beneficial to the business community of the state, with the whole issue of environmental protection being less of a focus for the administration,” Ambs says.

Governor Tony Evers 2019 – Present

Ambs credits the Evers administration for advances in environmental policy, including:

The year of drinking water. « Proclaimed in 2019 [it] really brought attention to the challenges that we have, that we still have, whether it’s PFAS contamination, legacy lead service lines in many communities in Wisconsin, and then challenges with contaminated private wells,” says Ambs.

Evers failed to rally the state legislature to push the policy forward.

“But the Evers administration alone was able to secure significant federal funds, nearly $100 million in funding for the lateral removal of lead service lines, to address well contamination issues,” said Ambs. “And now, work that continues through the Federal Infrastructure Act, which has invested significant sums in PFAS.

The Evers team revived the Wisconsin Climate Change Initiative, created under the Doyle administration. “And just once again being able to recognize that as the overriding threat and challenge to natural resources in Wisconsin compared to the previous administration where they didn’t even want to use the word climate change, let alone have a state agency that was focused on the challenges associated with this climate change,” says Ambs.

He’s optimistic about Evers’ second term, but not because Ambs anticipates the ability to craft a new state environmental policy.

“Fortunately, he won’t have to do much of that because this infrastructure act provides significant new funding for five years,” Ambs said. “These federal dollars just need to be spent effectively and can be spent effectively on PFAS, lead lateral disposals, and addressing some of the polluted runoff issues that are causing contamination from our private well in the state,” Ambs says.

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