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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Walker's Budget Is Bad for Business and the Environment

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"This budget is good for Wisconsin's environment, because a strong economy and a clean environment go hand in hand," Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Cathy Stepp testified before the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee last week.

Stepp argued that ending state support for local recycling programs is wise because "recycling can and should stand on its own."

In reality, local governments are wondering how they're going to cover the lost $32 million in state funds while still operating their recycling programs. And even though Gov. Scott Walker and Stepp are withholding funds and eliminating the mandate that municipalities provide recycling services, state law would still ban individuals from putting their recyclables in landfills.

Walker would still collect the fee that supports recycling programs, of course, a $7 per ton recycling fee assessed on solid waste disposal. The $32 million that's collected, however, would be diverted to an economic development agency.

Anne Sayers, program director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said Walker's funding shift represents a raid on a segregated fund, something that Walker and his fellow Republicans traditionally oppose.

"I guess a raid in this case is fine," Sayers said.

Wisconsin's popular recycling program is also a huge source of revenue for the $5.4 billion environmental industry in the state, revenue that is now jeopardized by Walker's changes.

According to the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin (AROW), recycling paper and containers from state residences generated $40 million last year for recycling businesses. But these businesses argue that this revenue would not be enough to cover the cost of curbside recycling on top of the cost for sorting and processing recyclable goods. Withdrawing state support would make the curbside recycling program unaffordable, AROW says.

Environmental groups are also crying foul over the non-fiscal items in Walker's budget that would harm the state's natural resources. For example, Walker would allow Stepp's DNR to repeal and rewrite storm water runoff pollution rules; give polluters five years to comply with the Clean Water Act, instead of three years; move public transit out of the transportation fund so that it has to compete with non-transportation programs for resources from the general fund; and change the way in which the state's popular Stewardship Fund can be spent—as well as eliminating the requirement that the state cover property taxes for parcels of land purchased by the DNR—making it difficult and politically risky for local governments to participate in the program.

But perhaps the most galling for environmental groups—as well as some businesses—is Walker's mission to change new phosphorus regulations intended to bring Wisconsin into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The result of weaker regulations will be horrific, smelly algae blooms in state waterways.

The River Alliance of Wisconsin has collected testimonials from Wisconsin business owners who would be adversely affected by these rules. For example, Tom Koren, who owns the Lure Bar and Grill on Lake Petenwell in Adams County, said the green algae bloom on the lake—sometimes 6 inches thick—deters people from coming to his business, boating and building homes on the lake. Dunn County real estate agent Robyn Morin said that algae blooms and the accompanying stench are a "deal breaker" and she's lost numerous sales because of poor water quality.
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