Ronald Reagan, Warmed Over, Redux—Or, How Scott Walker Has Dismantled Environmental Protections in Wisconsin

Beyond Wisconsin, Scott Walker is known primarily for his attacks on unions and collective bargaining, on the funding of public education, and more recently, on tenure. But in a recent article for Scientific American, Siri Carpenter reports on his attacks on Wisconsin’s environmental protections, on environmental activists, and on climate science and climate scientists:

“When Wisconsin’s new state treasurer Matt Adamczyk took office in January, his first act was to order a highly symbolic change in stationery. Adamczyk, a Republican and one of three members of the board that oversees a small public lands agency, “felt passionately” that Tia Nelson, the agency’s executive secretary, should be struck from the letterhead. As soon became clear, his principal objection to Nelson, daughter of former Wisconsin governor and environmentalist-hero Gaylord Nelson, was that in 2007–08 she had co-chaired a state task force on climate change at the then-governor’s request. Adamczyk insisted that climate change is not germane to the agency’s task of managing timber assets, and that Nelson’s activities thus constituted “time theft.” When he couldn’t convince the two other members of the agency’s board to remove Nelson from the letterhead, he tried to get her fired. When that motion failed, he moved to silence her. In April the board voted 2–1 to ban agency staff from working on or discussing climate change while on the clock. The climate censorship at the public lands agency made national headlines.

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has kept his distance from Adamczyk. It is easy to see why: Walker is widely expected to announce a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. And his environmental legacy—which so far has gone largely unexamined in the national press—has reached much farther than anything the board of a tiny public lands agency could accomplish.

“Since taking office in 2011 Walker has moved to reduce the role of science in environmental policymaking and to silence discussion of controversial subjects, including climate change, by state employees. And he has presided over a series of controversial rollbacks in environmental protection, including relaxing laws governing iron mining and building on wetlands, in both cases to help specific companies avoid regulatory roadblocks. Among other policy changes, he has also loosened restrictions on phosphorus pollution in state waterways, tried to restrict wind energy development and proposed ending funding for a major renewable energy research program housed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“Most recently Walker has targeted the science and educational corps at the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which has responsibility for protecting and managing forests and wildlife, along with air and water quality. In his 2015–17 budget, released in February, he proposed eliminating a third of the DNR’s 58 scientist positions and 60 percent of its 18 environmental educator positions. (The cuts were approved by the state legislature’s budget committee in May, and the budget is currently making its way through the legislature.) Walker also attempted to convert the citizen board that sets policy for the DNR to a purely advisory body and proposed a 13-year freeze on the state’s popular land conservation fund—both changes that lawmakers rejected in the face of intense public objections.

“Walker’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comments for this article. But he and his allies in the Republican-controlled legislature have said that such policy shifts will streamline regulations that they say interfere with business development. Many scientists and environmental advocates as well as some conservative political and business leaders say Walker’s actions diminish the role of science in policy decisions and undermine key environmental protections that have long distinguished Wisconsin as a conservation leader. . . .”

Carpenter’s entire article can be found at:



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