tries voluntary ways to curb emissions
By JOEL ESKOVITZ Associated Press Writer
Wisconsin was considered an environmental leader nearly
two decades ago when it adopted stringent regulations
on sulfur dioxide emissions to curb the spread of acid
But today other states have taken the lead in adopting
regulations to combat what many scientists see as this
century's biggest environmental problem -- global warming.
Wisconsin has settled on a largely voluntary approach.
Most scientists believe such warming is caused by greenhouse
gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide
emitted from industrial and other human activity, which
trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the Earth.
The heart of Wisconsin's effort is a program to register
which companies voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions
and by how much. The state hopes the federal government
would give the companies credit for such reductions if
it adopts regulations to curb such emissions.
An Associated Press examination of global warming in
Wisconsin found experts think the program is well-intentioned
but some question whether it provides enough incentive.
Eric Mosher, the state climate change specialist who
played a large role in crafting it, said: "I don't know
if voluntary programs work. I don't know if anybody will
participate or not."
A tougher approach, legislation that would have regulated
two of the most common greenhouse gases, was introduced
in both the state Senate and Assembly last session but
Gov. Scott McCallum has asked two state agencies to study
whether it is feasible for utilities to expand a 1999
law requiring utilities to increase using cleaner options
such as solar and wind power. But McCallum's spokesman
said that apart from that, global warming is "just not
on our radar screen."
Many scientists believe global warming could cause irreparable
damage to the state by severely disrupting shipping and
recreational activities along Lake Michigan, devastating
the winter tourism industry and bringing tropical and
subtropical diseases to the region.
"If we don't start to reduce our emissions soon, by the
time we've got a crisis, it will be too late to turn things
around," said Lloyd Eagan, director of the state's Bureau
of Air Management.
The program to track emissions reduced by Wisconsin industries
was passed by the Legislature and is being implemented
by the state Department of Natural Resources. The DNR
has spent more than 18 months, 1,500 staff hours and $50,000
University of Michigan environmental professor Barry
Rabe, who studies what states are doing to combat global
warming, said: "There's almost a 'Field of Dreams' quality
to this: If you build it, will the firms come?"
Around Wisconsin, a handful of firms are taking the initiative
to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co. and SC Johnson & Son
Inc. in Racine are among about 20 companies nationwide
participating in the federal Environmental Protection
Agency's Climate Leaders program, in which firms volunteer
to work with the EPA on meeting greenhouse gas emissions
But many firms in the state are waiting to see what the
federal government will require, said Jeff Schoepke, director
of environmental policy for the 4,600-member Wisconsin
Manufacturers & Commerce.
"A number of members have asked the question: Why should
we start reducing emissions if our work might not count?"
Senate President Fred Risser said: "To have one little
state try to solve the problem is really quite inconsequential.
"You could ban automobiles altogether in the state of
Wisconsin, and if other states and other countries don't
follow suit, it isn't going to make much of a difference,"
said Risser, D-Madison.
Some industry groups question global warming's impact.
The Lake Carriers' Association, an organization of Great
Lakes shippers, says some warming models show no effect
on Lake Michigan's water levels.
"No one is absolutely certain that this is a hard fact,
so we're not going to go out and spend $100 million
a boat," said Glen Nekvasil, the association's vice president
of corporate communications.
The Earth has been gradually warming. Some scientists
contend that the warming is a natural phenomenon, part
of the Earth's life cycle.
However, most scientists believe greenhouse gases are
behind the warming.
Most experts say Wisconsin already is seeing signs of
global warming in lakes freezing later and thawing earlier
and in plants blooming earlier.
The DNR's program to give industries potential credit
for emissions reductions cannot guarantee the federal
government would recognize those credits. John Mooney,
a federal EPA environmental specialist in Chicago, said
the federal government would be unlikely to grant such
credits unless the state took more rigorous steps to assure
emissions actually had been reduced.
"The DNR just doesn't have the resources to invest in
double-checking every entry," Mooney said.
Rabe said the leading states in combatting global warming
have emissions standards companies must follow or face
n New Jersey, which became the first state to set a target
for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2000, by seeking
a 3.5 percent decrease in emissions from 1990 levels over
n Oregon, which requires new utilities' plants to emit
17 percent less carbon dioxide than the country's most
efficient natural gas-fired plant.
n New Hampshire, which requires utilities' aging power
plants to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent
A 1999 Wisconsin law requires utilities to produce at
least 2.2 percent of their energy from renewable sources
such as solar and wind power instead of coal by 2012.
Those that don't comply face fines ranging from $5,000
This would reduce the release of carbon dioxide because
less coal would be burned; it does not directly regulate
McCallum last year ordered two state agencies to consult
with utilities to determine whether the utilities could
produce more than 2.2 percent of their energy from renewable
"This is pure economics. It's beyond social conscience,"
McCallum told the AP, explaining that he felt the state
should not be captive to the market for nonrenewable energy.
"I believe that without getting into that debate (on
global warming) having a mix is something we have to strive
for," he said.
In 1986, Wisconsin passed one of the first and strongest
laws to control acid rain, produced when sulfur dioxide
and nitrogen oxides mix with water. The law required utilities
to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by half from 1980 levels
over a seven-year period. Portions of the 1990 amendment
to Congress' Clean Air Act were modeled after Wisconsin's
However, Tim Roby, the governor's spokesman, said as
far as global warming is concerned, "It's just not on
our radar screen. The issue of global warming has not
come up in a single discussion in the past several months."
Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, sponsored the legislation
creating the DNR's program. He said it would be difficult
to pass any type of emissions standards for utilities.
"It's not like the state Legislature tips green at this
point," he said. "If anything, it tips the other way."