The view persists: Pro-environment equals anti-business.
The latest hint of that misguided philosophy emerges as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce proposes regulatory reform. The lobbying group argues that Wisconsin’s hostile regulatory climate will continue to cost the state manufacturing jobs.
Calpine Central LP scrapped its plans to build an energy plant in Wood County after regulatory holdups. The company charged that state Department of Natural Resources offices had varying interpretations of wetlands rules.
We understand the frustration of business owners who struggle through a mass of red tape and expense. Businesses must be able to expect a timely response to permit applications. If government serves as an impediment to responsible growth, it must be reformed.
But any effort to ease the regulatory process must come with a renewed commitment to the state’s tradition of environmental stewardship. Watering down state environmental regulations may help the state attract a few jobs but with long-term costs. Instead, we challenge state leaders to create a green plan — a strategic vision for sustainable development.
Twenty-five years ago, the Netherlands launched an environmental revolution. Since then, the densely populated and industry-heavy nation has reduced industrial waste by 60 percent and sulfur-dioxide emissions from power plants by 70 percent. About one-fifth of Dutch households use solar, wind or other alternative energy, compared with 1 percent of U.S. homes. While the Bush administration plans to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent, Dutch leaders are on target to cut emissions by 6 percent by 2012.
While pollution has decreased, the economy has grown. Holland led Europe with 3.5 percent economic growth a year in the 1990s. The eco-revolution has helped spur the economy, in part because the Netherlands exports clean technology.
The success of the Netherlands’ National Environmental Policy Plan rests not in anti-business regulation but cooperation and shared responsibility. More than 250,000 businesses have signed voluntary but legally binding covenants to conserve energy, curb pollution and reduce other environmental effects. Fines kick in if targets are not met, but big tax breaks are rewarded to businesses that exceed goals.
Businesses also can swap emissions credits.
Of course, critics say the Netherlands and the United States are far different culturally and politically. But New Jersey has adopted portions of the Dutch model for nearly a decade. It has one of the strongest Smart Growth programs, has created partnerships between government and business and plans to cut its emissions.
Meanwhile, its population and economy grow at rates exceeding 3.8 percent a year. Minnesota and Oregon also are working on green plans.
Wisconsin’s leaders can continue to wallow in growth vs. green thinking, or they can forge a bold vision that ensures the health and wealth of the state’s residents and resources.