The Fuse

Energy Policy 2016: Spotlight on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

by R. Kress | July 13, 2015

Status: Expected to declare candidacy on July 13, 2015

Party: Republican

Career Overview: Scott Walker is currently the Governor of Wisconsin, an office he has held since 2011. One year following his election to this office, Walker came into the national spotlight when a statewide effort to recall him from office gained ground. Walker was among several Wisconsin politicians who faced recall efforts in 2011 and 2012 in the wake of protests opposing his Budget Repair Bill that would have eliminated public workers’ collective bargaining rights. Ultimately, he survived the recall election—the first Governor in U.S. history to do so—and managed to be reelected as Governor in 2014.

Transportation: In January of this year, Walker released an infrastructure plan opposing an increase in the state gas tax in favor of borrowing $1.3 billion to fund two years’ worth of transportation projects. The move was marked with some criticism from Walker’s own party, as Wisconsin Republican leaders expressed concern about borrowing such a large sum. Walker’s transportation secretary had also recommended increasing the state’s taxes on gasoline and new car purchases—proposals rejected by Walker. However, his plan did include a provision for adding a $25 tax on bicycle sales—a point that outraged bikers in Wisconsin who noted that he did not raise taxes for motorists.

Clean Power Plan: Walker has been very outspoken against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules that would reduce carbon emissions from the country’s power sector by 30 percent by 2030. Much of those reductions would come from the coal industry—which, as of 2013, provides 62 percent of Wisconsin’s energy. In a 2014 statement, he urged EPA to reconsider the rule, claiming that it would harm his state’s residents and businesses: “If enacted, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan would be a blow to Wisconsin residents and business owners, and I join business leaders, elected officials, and industry representatives in opposing this plan. I urge federal officials to carefully consider our concerns and the adverse economic impact this plan could have on our state, as well as the nation.” Earlier this year, he banded together with 12 other states to sue EPA over the Clean Power Plan.

Additionally, Walker has signed the No Climate Tax Pledge that was created by billionaire David Koch’s conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The pledge effectively vows to block any climate change legislation that would create a “net increase in government revenue.”

Fracking: Wisconsin is a major player in the fracking industry despite not having much in the way of actual gas resources. What Wisconsin does have in relative abundance is “frac sand”—silica sand grains that are a key component in the fracking process. The frac sand industry has exploded alongside the domestic production boom, since it has useful applications as a “proppant” in the fracking process. Public interest groups have raised concerns about the health and environmental implications of frac sand extraction, but while Walker has been a vocal proponent of the mining operations, which have grown rapidly during his time in office.

Keystone XL: Walker was a major supporter of the Keystone Pipeline expansion. In 2013, he wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for construction to get underway: “I urge Secretary Kerry to move swiftly on the expansion of the Keystone Pipeline. The expansion of the pipeline is our chance to have a new North American energy source. Expanding the pipeline will produce 830,000 barrels of oil per day, which will have an enormously positive economic impact.” In 2014, Walker reiterated his appeal to Secretary Kerry, citing estimates that the pipeline would bring some 1000 jobs to Wisconsin. He also invoked the larger issue of energy security: “In fact, the Keystone XL Pipeline could be part of a larger strategy that could result in the U.S. and Canada providing 100 percent of America’s liquid fuel needs by 2030. Our days of relying on unstable and at times hostile nations for our energy needs should be drawing to a close.”

Environmental record: Environmentalists within his home state have often criticized Walker’s policies. However, now that he is coming into the national spotlight, his environmental record is drawing greater scrutiny. Of particular concern is his relaxing of anti-dumping laws for industrial mining companies and voiding the right of citizens to sue those companies for damage to the environment. One of those mining companies—Gogebic Taconite—turned out to be one of Walker’s key political donors.

Another key concern from state environmentalists is Walker’s budget proposal that would cut the jobs of dozens of scientists and educators from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Also since Walker came into office, the DNR has experienced a progressive loss of influence, issuing fewer citations year over year.