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Wis. clean energy, transit bills dead

Associated Press Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A proposal designed to make Wisconsin a renewable energy leader appears to have run out of gas in the Legislature.

The state Senate does not intend to vote on the bill Thursday, the final day of the legislative session and coincidentally the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, dooming the energy bill.

The Assembly was supposed to vote on passing the measure that requires 25 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2025 but delayed action until Thursday. The measure must pass both houses before being sent to Gov. Jim Doyle, a major backer of the bill.

The much ballyhooed plan was weighed down under fierce opposition from the state’s largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which argued new clean energy mandates would drive up utility rates and kill jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, opposes the bill because he said it would raise utility rates. Decker did not place the bill on the agenda, released late Wednesday, for the Senate’s final day in session.

Proponents — including many utility companies, businesses and environmentalists — argue the bill would actually lower energy costs and create jobs. They point to a study by the Public Service Commission that indicated the measure would lower utility bills and reduce the total cost of the state’s energy bills by $3.7 billion by 2025.

Environmental group Clean Wisconsin urged the Legislature not let the bill die on Earth Day, which was founded in Wisconsin.

“Killing the most important clean energy bill in the state’s history is no way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day,” said Clean Wisconsin policy director Keith Reopelle. “We hope that our legislators realize that to do so would be a monumental mistake.”

Doyle was pushing for the bill Tuesday just hours before the Assembly took it up but failed to pass it. Speaking at an event commemorating Earth Day, Doyle said fears over rate increases were “not true” and it was critical the state pass the measure to take advantage of economic opportunities related to renewable energy.

“I know this is a tough bill,” Doyle said. “I don’t think it should be. I think people have been misled in many ways about it. This is a bill that’s really about creating good jobs in Wisconsin.”

A number of other major proposals remained in limbo as the Legislature headed into its final day.

: A plan to create a regional transit authority for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin appears to have been derailed again.

Discussed for years, Doyle and lawmakers have been unable to come up with a plan to create a way to pay for and develop bus and commuter rail service in the most populated part of the state.

The current plan would increase sales taxes 0.5 percent in Milwaukee County, but that was thrown off the tracks when the Assembly adopted an amendment early Wednesday that would require voters first approve the tax hike.

Democrats removed the item from consideration after that Republican-backed requirement passed on a bipartisan vote. The Senate did not schedule it for a vote on Thursday, meaning it will die.

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