Wisconsin Climate Change Gag Order Part of Multi-Front, Industry-Tied Attacks

04/14/2015 09:45 am ET | Updated Jun 11, 2015

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Although the story was covered by multiple media outlets, lost in the public discussion so far is how the vote fits into the broader multi-front industry attack in America's Dairyland-turned-Petro State and which industry interests may have played a role in the vote. 

The historical roots of the vote appear to trace back to an April 2009 congressional testimony given by Tia Nelson, executive secretary for the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and daughter of former Wisconsin Democratic Governor Gaylord Nelson, in favor of passage of the American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009.

That bill is better known as the controversial and eventually nixed Waxman-Markey climate bill, a bill opposed vigorously by the fossil fuel industry (and some environmentalists, too). 

Gaylord Nelson served as the founder of Earth Day and is the namesake for both the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, as well as Gaylord Nelson State Park.

Tia Nelson, when she testified in front of congress, sat as co-chair of former Wisconsin Democratic Governor Jim Doyle's global warming task force. The task force -- announced during Doyle's 2007 State of the State address -- published a report in July 2008 titled, "Wisconsin's Strategy for Reducing Global Warming."

That report was derided by environmentalists for coming out in support of lifting the state's nuclear energy moratorium and by corporate interests and climate change deniers like State Policy Network (SPN) "stink tank" members Wisconsin Public Research Institute (WPRI) and the Beacon Hill Institute, which co-authored a November 2009 report titled, "The Economics of Climate Change Proposals in Wisconsin." 

In audio of the discussion preceding the 2-1 vote obtained by DeSmogBlog via an open records request, much of the 17-minute deliberation centered around the GOP Wisconsin treasurer Matt Adamczyk peppering Nelson with questions about her time spent serving on the task force.

The ALEC Connection

As DeSmogBlog has previously reported, State Policy Network was a creation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), according to a document we found in the Tobacco Archives. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that ALEC -- at least indirectly -- acts as a character in this story as well.

One of the outspoken critics of the Doyle global warming task force back in 2009 was Mike Huebsch, who penned a December 2009 article titled, "Global Warming Legislation Unveiled after Months of Secret Meetings." During Republican Governor Scott Walker's first term, Huebsch headed up Walker's Department of Administration, and in February he was named a commissioner for Wisconsin's Public Service Commission.  

According to documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Huebsch served as the former state co-chairman of ALEC back when he was a state representative. Other documents obtained by Common Cause show Huebsch also was a member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force.

"From 2008 to 2010, Huebsch received over $5,000 in 'scholarships' from ALEC member corporations, and oversaw the distribution of over $78,000 in corporate-funded scholarships to state legislators," a CMD report further details

Clean Power Plan 

In an April 8 press release, Scot Ross, executive director for One Wisconsin Now, pointed to another important connection at-play: Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who cast the deciding vote that banned doing any climate change- or global warming-related work while on the job at the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

"We've seen enough of Matt Adamczyk and his antics to not be surprised by his lack of intellectual heft," said Ross, referring to February 2015 New York Times profile of Adamczyk. "But you have to wonder what's behind...Schimel's support for a science denier's gag order on a state employee."

A possible answer to Ross' question is that it is part-and-parcel of his office's ongoing lawsuit, filed in concert with coal industry giant Murray Energy (owned by climate change denier Robert "Bob" Murray), against President Obama's proposed Clean Power Plan regulating coal-fired power plants. 

On March 25, Schimel signed off on a Motion to Intervene in the ongoing lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia spearheaded by Murray Energy back in June 2014.

Wisconsin Obama Carbon Rules Lawsuit

Governor Walker, a front-runner candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential ticket, also has submitted a public comment opposing the Clean Power Plan. So too did the Public Service Commission and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the latter of which is now also mulling over dissolving its science bureau

According to lobbying disclosure forms, Cook's former industry clients have included the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), Koch IndustriesMarathon Petroleum, Xcel Energy and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Cook also formerly worked as a staff attorney at the Koch-tied Pacific Legal Foundation.

And as The New York Times revealed in a December 2014 investigation, the corporate-funded Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) has worked in concert with coal mining and coal utility companies to stave off Obama's Clean Power Plan. 

"527 reports to the IRS also showed [RAGA] gave $300,000 to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business group, which recently began airing television ads in support of GOP attorney general candidate Brad Schimel," an October 2014 Wisconsin Democracy Campaign blog post explained.

"Stop Climate Censorship"

A petition published by Forecast the Facts has called on Gov. Walker to oppose climate censorship in Wisconsin. But it appears unlikely to happen, given the pile of money that brought the people implementing the policy to where they are to begin with.

"The polluters and climate change deniers bought Brad Schimel and the Attorney General's office," Ross said in an email to DeSmogBlog. "While they may have spent relatively little to buy a cheap politician, the price Wisconsin will pay as result of his actions will be enormous for years to come."