Check Walker's Motive on Energy ChoicesBy Tom Clementi
If you’re like me and find the news involving Scott Walker and his ever-changing views on seemingly everything— from abortion as something between “a woman and her doctor” to “I will sign the bill” prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, from saying that immigration amnesty “makes sense” to “I don’t believe in amnesty,” and “I have no interest in a right-to-work law” to signing the law at the first possible moment — just dizzying, well, welcome to the club.
I’m really not sure how he does it, or frankly, how the people of Wisconsin can keep up with it or put up with it. Frankly, it makes me wonder if Walker is ever sure about anything or if he just changes his opinions as the political situations and locations warrant.
Recently, Walker traveled to Iowa and proclaimed his support for ethanol and bio-renewable fuels, which is about what you’d expect from a candidate stumping in the Corn Belt. Never mind that as far back as 2006, in his first run for governor, he was critical of the idea: “Mandates hurt Wisconsin’s working families. And whether they are from Washington or Madison, we as fiscal conservatives should oppose them.”
Yes, we know politicians change their minds.
But deep in his 2015-2017 budget, Walker calls for elimination of the University of Wisconsin’s renewable energy program. Keep in mind that this is separate from his proposal to cut the University of Wisconsin’s budget by $300 million. The research center develops ways to create energy out of wood, grasses and corn — all bio-renewable fuels. It partners with private companies to help them become more energy-efficient. An example is Johnson Controls, Wisconsin’s largest company, which opened a research facility on the Madison campus last year.
The energy research program started eight years ago with a $125 million grant from the George W. Bush administration. It continues to receive $25 million per year from the Department of Energy. The state’s financial contributions helped fund the actual construction of the building, which opened just two years ago. UW’s renewable energy program has been an unqualified success. It has filed 100 patent applications in the past eight years; that’s an average of about one per month.
Start-up companies have been enthusiastic about using UW’s technology, including GluCan Biorenewables, a Missouri company planning to build a plant in northern Wisconsin to develop chemicals used in the papermaking industry. That’d mean a more efficient papermaking process, and jobs to go with it. Another research center innovation is a process that breaks down plant sugars and coverts them to energy — energy from biological, not fossil fuels.
Walker, however, now wants to pull the plug on the state’s $4 million annual funding, which would mean the elimination of 35 positions and cripple the program. But why? To just save $4 million? It may be more important to recall exactly who has funded the Walker train from the start.
The amount of outside-the-state money that has flowed to the governor’s campaign coffers has been significant. Those donors are decidedly in the fossil-fuel business and their profits are threatened when they come up against renewable energy sources.
It’s fair to ask why there has been no expansion of wind power programs in Wisconsin in the last four years. Or why it was so easy for a Florida company to get approval to build the country’s largest open-pit mine in northern Wisconsin (though they’ve now quietly backed out of the mine’s construction). Or why, as soon as he walked into the governor’s office, Walker canceled an $800 million contract from the federal government to repair and expand rail service in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the amount of road construction in the state continues to increase and Walker wants to borrow the money to fund it. Who benefits from these type of policies? Whose profits increase? Those whose companies deal in gas, oil, coal and asphalt are those whose organizations have contributed heavily to Walker’s political campaigns.
I don’t know how the governor plans to reconcile his differing views and statements. I don’t know how he can attempt to dismantle the most successful bio-renewable research program in his own state, and then go next door to proclaim his support for an industry which uses the very research he wants to shut down.
It’ll be interesting to see how the governor defends his constantly fluctuating views on so many issues. We’d probably be wise to check Walker’s travel map before making any predictions on what he might say next.
— Tom Clementi is an Appleton resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.