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Great Lakes Article:

Wisconsin tries voluntary ways to curb emissions

By JOEL ESKOVITZ Associated Press Writer
08/13/2002

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 rain.

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 went nowhere.

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 developing it.

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 reduction goals.

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?" he said.

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 state fines.

Those include:

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 five years.

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 by 2010.

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 to $500,000.

This would reduce the release of carbon dioxide because less coal would be burned; it does not directly regulate emissions.

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 sources.

"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 legislation.

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."

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