Wisconsin Governor Set to Sign Koch-Funded Anti-Regulations Bill
By Steve Horn
A bill with the potential to hobble government agencies' ability to propose regulations, known as the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, has passed in both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker's office has told DeSmog he intends to sign it into law.
REINS has been pushed for years at the federal level by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative advocacy group funded and founded with money from Koch Industries, and a federal version of it currently awaits a U.S. Senate vote. The House bill, H.R. 26, passed on Jan. 5 as one of the current Congress's first actions.
.@CarlPope: The Most Dangerous Bill You’ve Never Heard of Just Passed the House https://t.co/qkLlm15pih @RobertKennedyJr @MikeBloomberg @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484083251.0
Wisconsin's version mandates that if a proposed regulation causes "$10 million or more in implementation and compliance costs" over a two year period, that rule must either be rewritten or go by the wayside. Known as Senate Bill 15, the Wisconsin bill passed the state Senate on a party-line vote, 62-34 and would be the first state-level REINS bill on the books in the country.
"Governor Walker has thanked the Legislature for sharing his commitment to bold regulatory reform and looks forward to signing the bill into law," Jack Jablonski, a spokesperson for Gov. Walker, said in a statement provided to DeSmog. Jablonski did not provide a timeline as to when Walker plans to sign the bill.
Walker has a storied history of close ties to the petrochemical billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, including getting punked into taking a phone call with a David Koch impersonator back in 2011, who was actually a reporter with the Buffalo Beast, an alt-weekly newspaper in New York. Walker has taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Koch Industries, both during his three successful gubernatorial elections and during his short-lived run for president during the 2016 election cycle, which saw Walker ascend as the Koch brothers' chosen candidate.
Wisconsin-based Koch businesses which release air and water pollutants could benefit financially from the bill if it becomes law. Koch Industries owns subsidiaries including Georgia-Pacific, Flint Hills Resources and Koch Minerals, which in turn own assets such as paper production mills, pipelines and oil and gas storage facilities within Wisconsin.
Another group which has received Koch funding, Americans for Tax Reform, also praised the bill's passage. Americans for Tax Reform, run by its president and founder Grover Norquist, also successfully advocated for President Donald Trump to have the U.S. withdraw from the United Nations Paris climate agreement.
"The REINS Act—blocked by special interests in Washington—can be enacted in Wisconsin to reduce the costs and delays of overregulation," Norquist said in a statement provided to another Koch-funded group, the McIver Institute, which is a member of the Koch-funded State Policy Network. "By becoming the first state to pass a state version of the REINS Act, Wisconsin will further solidify its reputation as one of the nation's top government reforming states."
Lobbyists' 'Nefarious Role'
Wisconsin Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, the Assembly Assistant Minority Leader who serves on the Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, attempted to introduce several amendments to the bill, according to legislative drafting files obtained by DeSmog.
But those amendments, which would have essentially rolled back the key anti-regulatory language found within REINS, never received a vote. One of the amendments banned firms which have employed lobbyists within the past five years from performing the economic impact statement, while another called for the economic impact statement to calculate benefits from keeping regulatory safeguards in place. Yet another of Hesselbein's amendments called for the limit to be raised to $20 million for the law to apply to regulations proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
"It's unfortunate the amendments weren't even considered during debate on the bill," Hesselbein told DeSmog. "We were sincere in our efforts to work with the bill authors to improve the legislation and ensure the enactment of important agency rules aren't derailed by outside interests at the eleventh hour."
On the Assembly floor, Republican bill sponsor Rep. Adam Neylon said he was willing to work with Democratic colleagues to address the potential for a contracted lobbyist or lobbying group to write the economic impact statement dictated under the REINS Act. Neylon, who received a $1,000 campaign contribution from AFP for his successful 2016 electoral run, said having a lobbyist involved in the process would be "nefarious" (see video beginning at about 3:38:08) and is willing to work with Democrats on a follow-up bill.
"I'm troubled by the author of this legislation openly acknowledging the nefarious role industry lobbyists and political insiders could play in undermining the enactment of rules that are meant to protect our health and our environment," Hesselbein said in response to Neylon's statements.
Hesselbein, who represents a district just west of the state capitol city of Madison, sees the bill in general as a giveaway to industry lobbyists and corporate interests.
"The so-called REINS Act will undoubtedly move Wisconsin towards a rule-making process that will become marred by industry lobbyists with political agendas working to undermine the enactment of legislation aimed at protecting the public good," said Hesselbein.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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