State News: EPA Cuts, Water Diversion, Shipyard Investigation

Read what’s happening around the state, courtesy of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Local Leaders Fear Proposed Cuts To EPA, Great Lakes Cleanup Program

Great Lakes mayors say the Trump administration’s proposed 25 percent cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget could have disastrous effects on water quality and the regional economy.

Bayfield Mayor Gordon Ringberg said the proposed cuts are disappointing.

“(I’m) kind of afraid that it’s going to have a negative impact on what we can do to protect the lake,” Ringberg said. “If that’s the case, then it’s going to impact our tourist industry and fishing industries and everything else that kind of just revolves around the water.”

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has received bipartisan support from congressional lawmakers over the years. Congress has invested around $2 billion in more than 2,500 projects to clean up contaminated sites around the Great Lakes since 2010.

Trump has said he will cut back spending in some agencies to boost defense in his budget.

Waukesha Rebrands Water Diversion

Waukesha’s effort to bring in drinking water from Lake Michigan is now called the Great Water Alliance. But rebranding aside, the diversion project faces another hurdle this month.

Waukesha has paid a marketing firm to name its plan to buy Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek, and by the year 2020, build two, 20-mile long underground pipes through Franklin, Muskego and New Berlin.

One pipe would carry clean water to Waukesha. The other, Waukesha’s treated wastewater back as far as Franklin, where the effluent would be released into the Root River, which empties into Lake Michigan at Racine.

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said the marketing isn’t aimed at affecting oral arguments scheduled for March 20 in Chicago, on a petition by Racine and other Great Lakes cities to appeal last year’s eight-state approval of diversion.

“I’m not worried about it. There is some concern there. But I fully believe the (Great Lakes) Compact Council is going to reaffirm its decision,” Reilly said.

Waukesha’s water diversion would be the first time under the 2008 Great Lakes Compact that a community completely outside the Great Lakes Basin would get lake water.

Worker Injury Prompts OSHA Investigation of Shipyard

The federal workers’ safety agency has opened another investigation into a northern Wisconsin shipyard. Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Scott Allen said the agency opened the latest investigation into Fraser Shipyards in Superior after a worker was injured on the job last month.

“The company reported that an employee was burned to the point that he had to be hospitalized while they were working on a cargo hold in the Duluth harbor,” Allen said.

He said the investigation may be completed within the next few months.

Fraser agreed to pay OSHA a $700,000 fine earlier this year after a majority of workers were exposed to unsafe lead levels last year while working on the Great Lakes freighter Herbert C. Jackson. The shipyard agreed to make safety improvements as part of the settlement.

GOP Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Meant To Lower Electricity Bills

Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation they say could lead to lower electricity bills.

The “Ratepayers First” measure would require the Public Service Commission, the state’s utilities regulator, to review contracts every 10 years set up under Power the Future, a 2001 law aimed at encouraging Wisconsin power companies to generate more electricity.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg; Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon; Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay; and Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, are sponsoring the bill.

If passed, the bill allows the PSC to review and possibly lower the rates of the 25- or 30-year deals currently exempt from PSC review. Neylon and Cowles said high energy rates are hurting economic development.

Consumer group Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin plans to study the bill closely, and the group’s acting-executive director Kurt Runzler is offering tentative support.

“Electricity rates in Wisconsin are among the highest in the Midwest, and they’re trending higher,” Runzler said. “So we welcome and support the efforts of folks in the Legislature who are working to find solutions to that problem.”

But We Energies, which has most or all of the Power the Future contracts, contends the bill is unconstitutional, both at the state and federal level.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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