State News: Solar Tariff, NAFTA, Ethics Leaders

Trump’s Solar Tariff Hits Large Projects

President Donald Trump’s recently imposed tariff on solar panel components might not have a significant impact on the average homeowner or business owner, said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin executive director. But he said large-scale projects might feel some of the cost strain.

“If it (the tariff) sort of dampens demand because the thought is out there that now solar is no longer going to be affordable, that would be really unfortunate,” Huebner said.

The average consumer who is looking to install solar panels is not likely to see any significant changes in cost, Huebner said. In 2017, Wisconsin had 80 megawatts of solar energy, which increased from 42 in 2016, according to RENEW Wisconsin.

The tariff will last for four years, starting at 30 percent and by year four decrease to 15. It’s imposed on imported solar cells and modules.

WEC Energy Group, a Wisconsin utility provider, is planning to generate 350 megawatts of solar energy. It’s expected that solar energy generation of this capacity could power thousands of homes.

Amy Jahns, WEC Energy Group spokeswoman, said the cost of the project is still manageable even with the tariff, and they plan to move forward for now.

The Solar Energy Industries Association is projecting about 23,000 jobs lost in the United States from this tariff.


Republicans Fire Heads of Ethics, Elections Commissions

Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate have voted to fire the state’s top ethics and elections administrators because of their connections to the now-defunct Government Accountability Board and its investigation of Gov. Scott Walker.

“I can’t have confidence in an agency that still is employing some of the individuals that were there,” said Sen. Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Senators voted 18 to 13 against the confirmations of state Ethics Administrator Brian Bell and state Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas, leaving vacancies atop both agencies in an election year. All Republicans voted to oust Bell and Haas, while all Democrats voted to keep them. Fitzgerald called for their resignations late last year after Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel released a report on leaks in the investigation known as John Doe 2.

Schimel’s report criticized the GAB as a partisan agency, but it did not recommend charges against anyone. His report did recommend disciplinary actions against several former employees of the agency, but Bell and Haas were not among them.

Bell and Haas both worked at the GAB, but Bell has said he was not involved in any investigations. Haas has said his involvement in the Walker John Doe did not go beyond routine review of legal documents.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the findings of the John Doe investigation were far more shocking than how it was conducted. Documents showed Walker’s campaign working extensively during Wisconsin’s recall elections with third party groups that can raise unlimited funds and keep their donors secret.

“How can we not be looking at the facts that this investigation got to the root of people who are still in this building?” Taylor asked.


State Growers Join National Lobby for NAFTA

Several Wisconsin farmers organizations have joined a new coalition in support of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association both signed on to the new Americans for Farmers & Families coalition.

The group of more than 30 national and state organizations have come together as a coalition to lobby President Donald Trump and Congress about the importance of negotiating a new NAFTA.

“I think people are just generally concerned about the discussion that it’s going to limit trade,” said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. “The discussions that cause delays in or significant trade barriers being erected are only going to come back to harm American businesses and American farmers.”

Lochner said current negotiations could also impact other international markets, as countries watch how the United States handles NAFTA.

“Free trade and open trade is a positive for everybody involved, whether it’s the exporters or the importers. It just helps grow the overall market for cranberry products; and if we can do that, we can see our growers be able to farm in a profitable manner,” Lochner said.


‘Nobody Had to Die’

“Nobody had to die.” Those are the words Jason Pero’s cousin Clinton Gauthier said Saturday while protesting a special prosecutor’s decision not to file charges against an officer who shot and killed the 14-year-old on the Lake Superior Chippewa reservation in November.

Around two dozen people protested the decision to not criminally charge Ashland County Sheriff’s Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich who shot and killed Jason, a Bad River teen, on Nov. 8. They lined U.S. Highway 2 in Ashland on Saturday, holding signs that read “Justice for Jason.”

St. Croix County District Attorney Mike Nieskes wrote in a letter Friday to state and county law enforcement, concluding the deputy’s actions were “justified for the circumstances he found himself in and that there is no criminal liability for the death of the juvenile.”

Jason’s family members said they don’t agree that there is any justification for shooting Jason.

“There had to have been other avenues to take to resolve the situation,” Gauthier said. “Nobody had to die.”

The teen’s death has ignited tension between the Bad River tribe, Ashland County law enforcement and surrounding community. The tribe is reviewing its law enforcement agreement with the county. Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins said he wanted to see the U.S. Department of Justice honor the tribe’s request for an independent review of the incident.


Growers Prepare for Food Safety Changes

State agriculture officials are gearing up for federal food safety law changes that will affect vegetable and fruit growers.

The new rules, which take effect later this month, are the latest part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act to be phased in. The legislation was designed to prevent foodborne illness, like the deadly 2006 nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach.

The safety law gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration new authority to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed. It also allows the agency to recall produce.   

Federal produce safety rules for large farms go into effect Jan. 26 and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is working to educate farmers on what are called the biggest changes in 70 years.

“It is a big change. One of the big parts is that it puts foreign suppliers on the same playing field as local growers,” said Shawn Bartholomew, produce program and policy supervisor at DATCP.

The rules restrict when and how raw manure can be applied to fields and require testing for pathogens in water used to rinse fruits and vegetables.

“Water rules don’t take effect in 2020. So farmers have time to prepare,” said Bartholomew.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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