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June 2010

Clean Energy Jobs Act Dies in the Legislature

Legislation titled the Clean Energy Jobs Act died in the State Capitol at the end of April when the bill failed to come to a vote in either the State Senate or Assembly. This was a remarkable ending given the incredible amount of energy the Governor’s Global Warming Task Force had spent over 16 months in 2008 and 2009 developing a consensus set of recommendations and the commitment a number of legislative leaders made to putting the bill on Governor Jim Doyle’s desk for signature by Earth Day, April 22.

I was one of the task force members Governor Doyle appointed to come up with a state action plan to significantly reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Electric utility, business, environmental, consumer, and agriculture representatives worked to develop a moderate package of consensus recommendations designed to achieve much of what the governor asked us to accomplish. This was not an easy task since we all came into this work from many different viewpoints. Of course, much of our work was done prior to the Wall Street collapse and our more than 10 percent national unemployment rate.

Legislative leaders then worked over 10 months to come up with a bill that could be passed during the 2010 legislative session. I regret receiving only one call during this time from those writing the bill asking for guidance despite serving on the task force and co-chairing its Agriculture and Forestry Working Group. Given this, I was not surprised when the bill was introduced earlier this year without the vast majority of recommendations made by the Agriculture and Forestry Working Group and lacked recommendations from some of the other five working groups as well. But the bill and subsequent substitute included provisions that were not included in the task force recommendations.

The state cooperative community was put in a difficult position of deciding what position to take on the bill, and state cooperative leaders decided we had to immediately inform legislators that the bill substantially differed from the task force report and included costly provisions without a cost-benefit analysis.

For example, bill provisions requiring: (1) a substantial amount of our energy come from renewable fuels; (2) a new state Focus On Energy assessment, or essentially a tax, on propane and hearing oil; and (3) a low carbon fuel standard that could essentially tax certain types of fuel that were considered to be less efficiently produced (such as ethanol or petroleum refined from the Canadian tar sands), would have substantially raised consumer energy costs.

Alone, the renewable energy requirement was estimated by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to cost $14.5 billion unless offset by energy conservation due in part to rising energy costs.

Unfortunately, the bill’s true costs were not highlighted by bill proponents. Because of this, we raised our cost concerns to the Legislature. In the end, when our concerns were not addressed, we felt we had no choice but to oppose the bill. Many thoughtful legislators responded by expressing their own concerns about the bill, many Democrats and Republicans publicly stating that the Legislature should not pass a bill leading to higher energy costs.

The legislative concerns were significant enough for the bill never to come to a Senate or Assembly vote before the clock ran out on this legislative session.   

 


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