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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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