Anti-Regulation Law Favored by Kochs Could Nix Environmental Safeguards in Wisconsin
By Steve Horn
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) has sued Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers for what it alleges was a state education agency's violation of an anti-regulatory law—long pushed by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers—known as the REINS Act.
Wisconsin's version of REINS, or Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, is a piece of legislation heavily lobbied and advocated in favor of for over half a decade by Americans for Prosperity, a policy and electioneering advocacy front group founded and funded by the Koch Family Foundations and Koch Industries.
The bill, which has a federal equivalent in Congress, has long been seen as the crown jewel of the Koch network. It essentially gives legislative bodies full veto power over regulations, including proposed environmental safeguards, which have been proposed by executive agencies—even when those regulations are mandated by laws legislatures have passed.
WILL's November 20 lawsuit, if successful, would be the first time the REINS Act is used to halt a proposed regulation. WILL is funded almost entirely by the conservative Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation, which has offices located next door. Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker, who is up for re-election in 2018, became the first state chief executive to sign the state equivalent of REINS into law.
Walker has long maintained close ties with the Koch network and has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the juggernaut.
The federal version of the REINS Act, first introduced early in Barack Obama's presidency, was again proposed during the 2017 congressional session. The bill passed early in the year in the House, but not in the Senate, where it currently has 38 co-sponsors.
Rep. Steve Haugaard, a Republican in the South Dakota legislature, recently told the Heartland Institute that he too is in the process of bringing a version of the REINS Act to his state. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group which brings lobbyists and generally Republican Party state legislators together to vote on model bills at its annual meetings, has a resolution in support of the REINS Act as one of its pieces of model legislation.
Wisconsin Supreme Court, WILL Tie
WILL has brought the lawsuit directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It argues that Evers, a Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate, has promulgated proposed regulations without sending a detailed "scoping statement" to the state's Department of Administration. That office functions, in essence, as an extension of the governor's office.
Such a statement would have laid out the costs for stakeholders to comply with the proposed rules. The lack of this statement was discovered via an open records request filed by WILL, according to the complaint and exhibits from the case. The Wisconsin version of REINS requires that this type of scoping document be published, mandating that if the costs of regulatory compliance rise above $10 million, the bill or regulation either be rewritten or discarded.
"State Superintendent Evers is blatantly violating newly enacted state law," Rick Esenberg, WILL president and general counsel, said in a press release. "The legislature passed the REINS Act to make all agencies, including the Department of Public Instruction, more accountable to the elected-state legislature and open to the people of Wisconsin. No one, including Superintendent Evers, is above the rule of law in Wisconsin."
As the Associated Press noted, Gov. Walker recently appointed Dan Kelly, who formerly sat on WILL's litigation advisory board, to the Supreme Court in July 2016. Upon the appointment, WILL issued a statement in support of Kelly.
"I've known Dan a long time and enjoyed our personal and professional relationship. He is a very bright, capable attorney who believes in a judiciary that interprets the law objectively, fairly, and follows where the law might lead," WILL's Esenberg said in a press release. "His experience unquestioningly qualifies him for the Supreme Court where reason and sophisticated legal analysis guides public policy affecting nearly six million Wisconsinites."
The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce—the Wisconsin state-level equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—has inserted itself into the case by filing an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in support of WILL's lawsuit.
Legal Representation Issues
Beyond the lawsuit itself, Evers is actually having problems related to legal representation for the nascent case because he does not want to be represented by counsel from the office of Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Schimel has come out in agreement with REINS and its implementation.
Pointing to this set of circumstances, Evers wrote a letter on Nov. 28 and then held a subsequent press conference on Nov. 29 laying out why he would like to use his own team of lawyers, including Department of Public Instruction in-house counsel, for the case.
"I believe that your office is neither willing nor ethically able to provide representation in this matter," wrote Evers. "[Wisconsin Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Conduct] require all attorneys, including those at the Department of Justice, to advocate for their clients, abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation, and avoid conflicts of interest."
Evers and the rest of the Walker-run bureaucracy are at odds to begin with because, in Wisconsin, the state superintendent of public instruction, an office Evers also holds, is an elected post. Further complicating things: Evers, if he wins the Democratic Party gubernatorial primary in August, would be Walker's opponent in the general election.
"In perhaps the most outrageous Republican attempt to consolidate all political power in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker, Attorney General Brad Schimel, echoing French king Louis XIV, has effectively declared that he is the state (l'état, c'est moi)," wrote Wisconsin attorney Lester Pines of the development. "Schimel's expression of absolute authority arose in the latest effort by Walker to gain control of the only other executive officer created by the Wisconsin Constitution who has vested executive power, the superintendent of public instruction."
Dairy State Crucible
As previously reported by DeSmog, Schimel was also a co-plaintiff for the lawsuits spearheaded by then-Oklahoma Attorney General and current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt against the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan would have regulated carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt—a climate change denier, as is President Donald Trump—has repealed the Clean Power Plan and now mulls its required replacement.
A spokesperson for Schimel's office, Johnny Koremenos, told WisPolitics.com that the Office of the Attorney General is his legal counsel whether "Evers likes it or not."
"Whether Superintendent Evers likes it or not, the State of Wisconsin is the actual defendant in this lawsuit, and his personal opinions as to what the law is or should be will have no bearing on the attorney general's power or ethical duty to represent the state," said Koremenos.
Beyond the legal representation quagmire, Evers' Department of Public Instruction has also called for the lawsuit to be dismissed on its face. Agency spokesperson Tom McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "The case has no merit, period. The only people that don't understand this is WILL."
What happens in the days and months ahead with the WILL lawsuit, though, will likely have big implications for environmental regulations not only in Wisconsin but likely far beyond, with the Dairy State once again serving as a test case and battleground for the implementation of the Koch agenda.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Matthew J. Landry and Heather Eicher-Miller
When university presidents were surveyed in spring of 2020 about what they felt were the most pressing concerns of COVID-19, college students going hungry didn't rank very high.
Why It Matters<p>This is not just a matter of growling stomachs. This is a straight-up education and health issue.</p><p>When students don't really know if they'll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. For instance, it can affect <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105318783028" target="_blank">academic performance</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sleep quality</a>. It can also lead to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318783028" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">poor mental and physical health</a> outcomes for college students.</p><p>Food insecurity can also result in disrupted eating patterns if there is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627945/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not enough food or the variety</a> or <a href="https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6943-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">quality of what someone eats</a> is low.</p>
Campus Food Pantries<p>Previous strategies by <a href="https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696254.pdf" target="_blank">colleges and universities</a> to fight hunger in their student bodies have varied widely. They include campus food pantries, emergency cash assistance and nutrition education through noncredit classes or workshopse.</p><p>These strategies were put to the test during the spring 2020 semester, when nearly <a href="https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Hopecenter_RealCollegeDuringthePandemic.pdf" target="_blank">three in five students</a> said they had trouble meeting their own basic needs during the pandemic.</p><p>College food pantries saw <a href="https://www.utrgv.edu/newsroom/2020/05/01-utrgv-student-food-pantry-seeing-recent-increase-in-demand-during-covid-19.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">big increases</a> in demand. Others said they <a href="https://www.theprospectordaily.com/2020/09/22/uteps-food-pantry-is-running-out-of-food/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">were getting less donated food</a>. This made it even harder to meet the rising food needs of students.</p><p>Campus food pantries largely rely on local or regional food banks, which have been dealing with <a href="https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2020/10/04/indiana-food-banks-call-more-food-stamps-meet-publics-need/3523683001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greater demand</a> than they are able to meet during the pandemic.</p><p>The many students who are attending college remotely will, of course, have less access to campus resources like food pantries.</p>
Federal Help<p>Other potential ways to get more food are government programs like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility" target="_blank">Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program</a>, known as SNAP. Yet the majority of able-bodied students are not eligible. Long-standing restrictions, like the <a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students" target="_blank">college SNAP rule</a>, prevent full-time students from receiving these benefits.</p><p>Such regulatory hurdles were created under the assumption that most students can rely on their parents to get enough to eat. However, college students have vastly different levels of financial support. Some students can rely on their parents for everything and others cannot rely on their parents for anything.</p><p>Decreased reliance on parental financial support is <a href="https://ir.library.louisville.edu/jsfa/vol47/iss3/5/" target="_blank">especially common</a> for first-generation students and students of color, who now make up <a href="https://1xfsu31b52d33idlp13twtos-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Race-and-Ethnicity-in-Higher-Education.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">45% of enrolled college students</a>.</p><p>Under normal circumstances, many college students might rely on part-time jobs to pay for their food.</p>
Short-Term Solutions<p>Universities and colleges can make it a priority to ensure students are aware of all available campus resources and services. They can also potentially help students apply for federal assistance benefits.</p><p>Campus food pantries are not a fully effective and efficacious solution for the scale of college food insecurity, but they can be a good interim solution to increase access to food for students.</p><p>Campuses without food pantries can start one, making use of resources the <a href="https://cufba.org/resources/" target="_blank">College and University Food Bank Alliance</a> provides. Schools with food pantries can try to get them to <a href="https://www.swipehunger.org/5campuspantry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reach more students</a>.</p><p>Universities and colleges can also lean on one another for support. The <a href="http://wp.auburn.edu/endchildhungeral/alabama-campus-coalition-for-basic-needs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs</a> is a great example of this. It brings together 10 universities across the state of Alabama collectively working to address student food insecurity.</p>
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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