During the 2013-2014 legislative session, in what most would agree was a tough political climate, we defeated 4 of the 5 worst anti-conservation bills proposed. 50% of the bills we supported, passed. On our top priority issues, we were successful 75% of the time. And overall, of the 35 bills we took a position on, we had a 60% success rate! These victories prove that even when times are challenging, Wisconsinites can find common ground when it comes to protecting natural resources and public health.
Ensured Access to Clean Water Infrastructure Investment
(SB 10 & AB 13)
We all deserve to know that the water coming out of our taps is safe to drink, which is why this law is so important. It ensures that communities have the funding they need to install pollution controls and upgrade water systems to meet public health standards. Introduced by Senator Harsdorf (R-10) and Representative Marklein (R-51) – along with 38 co-sponsors! – the bill made technical changes to ensure that Wisconsin remains consistent with federal programs and eligible for funding for clean water programs. Governor Walker signed the bill into law on March 13 as Act 7.
Designated the “Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route” (SB 41)
A bipartisan group of 31 legislators introduced a bill that would designate the “Rock River Trail Scenic and Historic Route,” a water trail for boaters and paddlers with future plans to establish hiking and biking trails along the river. With the support of bipartisan legislators, it passed the Senate and Assembly and was signed into law on July 6, 2013 as Act 30.
Provided Drinking Water Funding for Joint Local Water Authorities
This law allows municipalities that have formed a joint local water authority to be eligible for funding for clean water improvements and to participate in the safe drinking water loan program. It had the broad support of a bipartisan set of legislators when it passed the Senate and Assembly. It was signed into law on May 17, 2013 as Act 12. Read more about the signing of the bill.
Defense: Retained County Conservation Staff (State Budget issue)
The staff of the Soil and Water Conservation Departments help implement critical programs that prevent manure, fertilizer, sediment, and other chemicals from entering our waterways. Governor Walker’s proposed budget had slashed support for County Conservationists by a devastating $998,600. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters provided detailed analysis of the provision to a broad coalition and generated more than 32,000 letters to legislators. The Joint Finance Committee restored the funding and the Wisconsin state budget was signed into law with the funding needed to maintain the County Conservation staff. Read more about the victory here.
Prevented Frac Sand Mining Along the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (Local Issue)
When the Pattison Sand Company, an out-of-state mining company with a history of environmental violations, pursued a permit to mine for frac sand along the banks of the Lower Wisconsin Scenic Riverway, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ members sprang into action, generating more than 2,200 letters to Board members and packing the public hearing room. In the end, the Board cast a decisive 6-2 vote rejecting the permit. Most observers did not expect that outcome…and certainly not by such a wide margin!
Defense: Thwarted United Sportsmen
The Sporting Heritage Grant was established through the state budget process to recruit train, and retain Wisconsin sportsmen and women. While a worthy concept that Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and our sporting partners support, the criteria outlined in the budget was specifically designed so that only one grantee, United Sportsmen, was eligible. It soon came to light that United Sportsmen was not a nonprofit, was run by a man who had been cited for hunting with the wrong license and lying to the warden when he was caught, and was completely inexperienced in training or recruiting sportsmen. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and other sporting organizations pushed back against awarding the grant to United Sportsmen (2,200+ letters were quickly submitted!) until Governor Walker rescinded the grant.
Protected Our Waters with a Watershed Approach (SB 190)
This new law marks a significant step forward in Wisconsin’s ability to protect our water quality. Instead of managing water quality by considering one polluting source at a time, we can now consider the cumulative effect on the entire watershed. This victory was made possible for two reasons. One, conservation voters sent more than 2,000 letters of support to state legislators! Two, Representative Al Ott (R-03) provided the leadership needed in the legislature. He identified a problem in the way Wisconsin managed water pollution, so he crafted a solution that brought all water users to the table. The Protect Our Waters with a Watershed Approach bill was signed into law as Act 70 on December 13, 2013. Kudos all around!
Secured the Safe Return of Lead Batteries (SB 512)
Because lead is a poisonous substance that can damage the nervous system and cause brain and blood disorders, Wisconsin has long required that establishments who sell lead batteries take them back from consumers to keep them out of landfills. While the law is good, it hadn’t been updated since 1995. It capped the amount for the deposit at no more than five dollars, which didn’t reflect the true costs of running the program. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters supported SB 512, introduced by Senator Cowles (R-02) and Rep. Spiros (R-86), to increase the deposit on lead batteries from five to ten dollars, ensuring that more batteries will actually stay out of landfills. The bill was signed into law as Act 305 on April 16, 2014. Read more about the passage of the bill here.
Kept Unused Drugs Out of Our Waterways (AB 448)
Unused or expired medications are often flushed down the toilet. More than $230 billion worth of prescription drugs used by Americans every year will make it through the sewage treatment process and into our waterways. These drugs can affect the biology and behavior of fish and other aquatic life at very low concentrations. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters supported AB 448, sponsored by Rep. Nygren (R-89), to authorize the operation of drug disposal programs by local governments and the Department of Justice. These programs will ensure that individuals with unused medications dispose of them properly. The bill was signed into law as Act 198 on April 8, 2014.
Defense: Stopped the Bad Groundwater Bill (SB 302/AB 679)
The bad groundwater bill introduced by Sen. Kedzie (R-11) would have allowed frac sand mining companies, factory farms, and other large water users to pull from the same groundwater source without considering how much water each entity is using. Its passage would have meant “death by a thousand straws” for Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters made defeating this bill a top organizational priority. We generated 680 phone calls to legislators, recruited 267 citizens to attend Conservation Lobby Day, and signed 145 waterfront property owners and organizations onto a letter to decision makers. Our supporters sent an astounding 15,833 emails to decision makers! We also provided legislative analysis and testified before the Committee. With all that action, legislators got the message and never brought the bill up for a vote in either house.
Defense: Stopped the Kneecapping Local Communities Bill (SB 349)
SB 349 was a doozy of a bad bill, even by bill author Senator Tom Tiffany’s (R-12) standards. SB 349 stripped away local communities’ ability to set more protective water and air quality standards to protect public health and safety. Even worse, this bill retroactively struck already-existing local community ordinances addressing public health and safety concerns from the books and prohibited towns from even monitoring air and water quality. Then it went yet another step by removing any remaining barriers to frac sand mining specifically.
They tried to move this one quickly, but Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and our supporters were even faster, immediately turning around a comprehensive bill analysis for citizens and generating 2,600+ letters to decision makers. We also contacted hundreds of citizens urging them to personally contact their legislators and recruited dozens of local elected leaders to sign-on to an opposition letter. We helped recruit a great showing for the October public hearing in Madison, arranged carpools, and assisted citizens with preparing their testimonies. At Conservation Lobby Day, 267 citizens lobbied against the bill, as well as any future bills filled with the same bad ideas. Read the op-ed “Weakening Local Control is No One’s Cup of Tea.” written by Field Director, Tom Stolp here.
Defense: Stopped the Eat My Dust Bill (SB 632/AB 816)
Frac sand mining is already causing our hills to disappear and our communities to suffer in western Wisconsin. If anything, citizens need more tools to address the dramatically changing landscapes of their communities. Introduced by Senator Tom Tiffany (R-12) and Representative Joan Ballweg (R-41), SB 632 and AB 816 would have allowed mining companies to avoid future mining-related ordinances that are adopted before the hypothetical mine even begins pursuing a permit. In addition, SB 632 & AB 816 would have invalidated existing ordinances in communities where current regulations address, in a single ordinance, all aspects of frac sand operations, from the actual mine site and processing facilities to loading operations.
As soon as it was introduced, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters was the first on the scene to oppose this terrible idea. In a matter of hours, we had prepared a comprehensive bill analysis, shared talking points with the grassroots network, recruited citizens to the hearing, and sent an action alert that ultimately generated nearly 5,500 letters to decision makers. The efforts paid off, as Senator Tom Tiffany’s bill never made it further than his own committee.
Halted Glacier Sands in Buffalo County (Local Issue)
The frac sand mining company Glacier Sands attempted to fast-track approval for a sand processing operation in Buffalo County that would have allowed 500 trucks per day to carry frac sand just across the street from a local school. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters worked to complement the immense on-the-ground efforts opposing the proposal by directing a unique action alert to members of the County Board. Soon after, Glacier Sands backed down.
Supported Trout Unlimited’s Work to Protect Cold Water Resources (AB 173)
Trout Unlimited is a non-profit member organization whose mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Trout Unlimited’s volunteers work to restore the trout streams in Wisconsin that so many sportsmen and women enjoy. Stream and wetland restoration also helps to protect Wisconsin’s drinking water for all citizens. This bill authorized a Wisconsin Trout Unlimited license plate. Supporters can now pay an additional fee for the license plate, with the money collected directed back to the organization to further its mission. The bill was signed into law as Act 266 on April 16, 2014.
Expanded the Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System (SB 596)
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System on behalf of all citizens. Wisconsinites currently utilize our state trail system for hiking, biking, and horse riding. This bill authorized the DNR to include water trails in this state trail system. Water trails can be used for recreational activities such as canoeing and boating and would be a highly valued asset by Wisconsin citizens and visitors. The bill was signed into law as Act 248 on April 9, 2014.
Defense: Thwarted Sufide Mining
As you well know, we were able to defeat the Open-Pit Mining Bill in 2012, but then lost this historic battle by just one vote in 2013. What you may not know is that, at the start of 2013, decision makers were planning to quickly pass the Open-Pit (Iron) Mining Bill, and then immediately push through another bill that gutted protections for sulfide mining – a bill that would have been even more devastating than the original iron mining bill. We headed into the 2013-2014 Legislative Session with a big goal – even if we couldn’t win the iron mining battle, we wanted to make sure we won the public debate so that legislators would be afraid to move ahead with the sulfide bill. We were successful, putting legislators on the defensive and keeping the book closed on sulfide mining.