Foreign Policy Blogs

Wisconsin is About Climate and Energy Too

I’ve never been more proud to be a graduate of the University of Wisconsin.  I spent a few happy years in Madison way back when.  It was just past the days of the anti-war demonstrations, and I was generally apolitical about things for a brief time in my early 20s, but it’s a great little city with an air of excitement and energy and it was good to be there.

Now the good union people of Wisconsin and their many, many supporters have stood up on their hind legs and declared that the attempted putsch on union rights is not something that will be suffered gladly.  (I was out in support of the union members in Wisconsin on Saturday here in New York.)  To strip, with a stroke of the pen, the right to collective bargaining for public employee unions is to send Wisconsin back to the bad old days.  Did Scott Walker campaign with that promise on his lips?  No, that would’ve been honest.  And he would’ve lost.

But what’s this got to do with climate and energy?  First of all, this sort of reactionary behavior is entirely in keeping with the trend from the newly installed Republican majority in the US House of Representatives where the “climate zombies” now rule.  The budget struggle may well result in EPA’s being robbed of its ability to pursue its GHG regulatory regime.  EPA’s course, not incidentally, was mandated by the Supreme Court when it ruled that EPA must determine if greenhouse gases are an “endangerment” to the public health and environment and, if so, must regulate them.

But there is a microcosmic connection in Wisconsin to the special interest/right wing onslaught against clean energy and climate science.  Paul Krugman had an insight in his column, Shock Doctrine, U.S.A., from last Friday:  that there’s language in the union-busting legislation that would empower the governor to privatize, at his whim and without bids, energy-producing facilities owned by the state.  Who was a principal bankroller of Walker’s campaign, and of the Tea “Party” as a whole?  The Koch Brothers.  Who would profit from getting their hands on these state facilities, cheap?  You guessed it.  (The Kochs were also in there spending money for Proposition 23 in California – wholeheartedly rejected by the voters.)

There’s more.  The Wonk Room highlighted ten policies from Walker designed to kill jobs and put unions, the middle class and working poor, not to mention the environment and public health, well behind the eight ball.  Among these is a proposal to foist onerous siting rules on wind farms, the effect of which would be to choke off the excellent progress taking place in Wisconsin.  Another is Walker’s rejection of federal money to help facilitate high-speed rail for his state.  The US DOT has redirected the money.

The Republican Party in the persons of Scott Walker and John Boehner, and the Tea “Party,” being substantially underwritten and driven by the Kochs, the oil and coal companies, and Fox News all are going to keep at it.  (Memorable poster from the rally in NYC this weekend:  “Walker, Murdoch, the Kochs – The Axis of Evil.”  Ouch.)

Those of us who’ve been fighting these battles for a long time are going to keep at it too, and, I suspect, as with Reagan’s war against environmental protection in the 1980s, there are going to be millions of new treehuggers born from the realization that there will soon be little or nothing between us and the desolation of the special interests if we don’t have action this day, as Winston Churchill instructed us.

We are all Cheeseheads.



Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change