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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Opinions Swing Widely On President Trump's Possible Approach to the Environment

T Ehlinger
Pike River Restoration represents longterm local, state and university partnership, including federal funding.

The Trump team seems to have followed Wisconsin’s lead. The Walker administration eliminated the words climate change from both the DNR's website and the Public Service Commission's website.

Then shortly after Donald Trump became president, the White House website no longer mentioned climate change.

Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce has no problem with wiping the term from all government vocabulary.

"[Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resource] get their authority from the Wisconsin legislature and so if anybody is concerned about climate change or global warming or any issue, they should look to the laws that the legislature has passed, because that’s what’s relevant, what’s on their website is not relevant,” he says.

Manley also applauds President Trump’s website announcementthat he’ll drop his predecessor’s initiative to carve U.S. carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. That goal was a piece of former President Barack Obama’s controversial Climate Action Plan.

“It really would be devastating for a state like Wisconsin because we get about 60 percent of our electricity from coal," he says. "So the extreme costs that would be associated with complying with that rule like that would hit a state like Wisconsin particularly hard."

George Meyer worked for the Wisconsin DNR for 32 years and now leads the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

“I’m probably more worried than I have ever been about the future of the environment nationally, but clearly in the state of Wisconsin,” he says.

Meyer fears the Trump administration will weaken air and water regulations administered by the EPA. “And then the state has to adopt all of this because our legislature that you can’t be any stricter than the federal government. So it’s clearly not just going to trickle down, it’s going to flood down to the protection of the environment in the state of Wisconsin,” he says.

Credit Joe Henessey
UW Center for Limnology and WDNR scientists check net for walleye.

Scientist Steve Carpenter heads the Center for Limnology,  the study of inland lakes, at UW-Madison. He says researchers here and around the country rely on federal grants. Those grants fund about 80 percent of Carpenter's team’s work.

He worries if climate change becomes ever-more politically charged, scientists works could be at risk.

“For instance, the work we’re doing on the Wisconsin walleye collapse is funded by the USGS. There are multiple causes, as there always are, but climate change in an underlying cause of that declines.” Carpenter continues, “And if it becomes politically impossible to say that climate change causes walleye decline, that research won’t go forward, so the walleye will just keep declining.”

Carpenter says scientists are accustomed to riding out political tides, but UW-Milwaukee biologist Tim Ehlinger believes policy and serious decisions can’t wait.

“We can’t turn this into a conversation between whether it’s human caused or not human caused, no one’s going to win, you can’t win that argument – is it 90 percent human caused or 17 percent…Let’s deal with adaptation strategies,” Ehlinger says.

The scientist, who directs the Partnership for Sustainable Peacebuilding, says the U.S. stands out as one of biggest proponents of studying climate and climate change. “Because it influences our capacity to be an effective security force,” he says.

Ehlinger and businessman Matt Neumann have at least one thing in common – they believe the ability to dialogue has broken down  at both the state and federal level.

Credit Geoff Cushman
Solar installation

But the Pewaukee-based builder and developer, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, is giving President Trump the benefit of the doubt.

“Because I really do believe that he is an economic driver, I believe he understands business. Because of that I hope he is one of the Republicans that has an open enough mind to say is it the economically right move in addition to, is it the right environmental move and I know if he takes that position, he’s going to fall heavily on the side in favor of renewables,” Neumann says.

Neumann added solar installation to his business in 2009.

He remembers President Trump once described climate change as a hoax. Nevertheless... “I really hope that he’s going to be honest with himself and look at future generations and say, what is the best thing for the United States of America, not what’s the best thing for Donald Trump, not how do I get reelected again. He’ll say what the best thing for my kids and grandkids and what is the best thing for the economy,” Neumann adds, “Again, this is my hope.”

Neumann says check back in 100 days to see if his view has changed.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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