Snapshot of 2014 Environmental Issues in Wisconsin
The threat of Asian carp started 2014 on a “fishy” note.
The Army Corps of Engineers released an $18 billion plan to keep the invasive carp from moving from the Mississippi basin into the Great Lakes.
Public concern swelled in October when carp DNA was detected in Green Bay.
In far northern Wisconsin just below Lake Superior, a proposed iron mine continued driving division among people living in the water-rich Penokee Range. Testing and monitoring began.
Russell Ray can see the proposed mine site from his cabin in the Penokees, "“We cannot see Lake Superior ruined. All these mountains, springs come out of them and feed all of these creeks that run out of them and everything run towards the Bad River, it’s going to eventually going to pollute the water in Lake Superior.”
Hurley businessman Jack Giovanoni says a mine would mean jobs and prosperity, not a crippled environment, "If anybody’s for the mine, that means they’re against the environment. This IS our environment, we live here – we don’t want to screw up what we live in."
Energy issues also charged 2014.
The EPA drafted the Clean Power Plan. Administrator Gina McCarthy said the country must reduce emissions from coal-burning power plants 30 percent, by 2030.
"The time for climate action is now – that’s how we can build plans that protect our communities; that produce homegrown energy,"' McCarthy says.
While the EPA talked up renewable energy, Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce warned that the plan would drive industry out of the state, "Because we have more than half of our electricity generated from coal – those costs are probably going to be significantly higher here than many other states and that’s going to put us at competitive disadvantage."
Perhaps no single issue drew broader outrage in 2014 – from residents to industry and local government – than WE Energies’ proposal to raise rates. It insisted it needed to collect a higher fixed monthly rate and new fees from customers who use renewable energy, so all are paying their fair share.
Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman led colleagues in condemning the move and suggesting the city take steps to become energy independent, "Where the city of Milwaukee can lower its electricity costs which will not only benefit the city directly, but the city’s taxpayers and ultimately all of the city’s residents as ratepayers."
In the end, the Public Service Commission approved the rate hike, but the utility postponed its plan to reduce payments to customers who feed solar energy into the grid.
The sum of 2014’s “environment” was far broader than conflicts.
For instance, the year brought remediation and fresh groundbreaking on a major industrial brown field on Milwaukee’s northwest side – at the Century City site.
In the Inner Harbor, UW Milwaukee completed a $53 million expansion of its School of Freshwater Sciences. Its researchers continued to nurture the next generation of scientists and help solve international water challenges.
Oh, did I mention that 2014 brought Wisconsin’s 3rd annual wolf hunt? Two weeks after it ended, a federal court placed the gray wolf back on the endangered species list.
It’s one of the complicated stories we’ll follow in 2015.