By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As outdoor lovers celebrated Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, state lawmakers pulled the plug on a bill that would have set aggressive new renewable energy standards.
The state Senate finished its two-year session Thursday without voting on the bill after Democratic leaders balked at reports that the measure would drive up utility rates. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, has signaled for days the measure had little support.
“We just don’t have the votes,” Decker said. “The businesses back home are really concerned (about the cost).”
Democrats worked for more than two years on the bill, which would have enacted recommendations from Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s climate change task force. After Democrats took control of both the Senate and Assembly in the 2008 election, the time looked perfect to push the legislation out.
A version introduced in January called for a quarter of Wisconsin’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025. The bill also eased restrictions on nuclear energy, tightened building codes to increase energy efficiency, imposed idling restrictions and mandated car emission standards similar to California’s, the toughest in the country then.
The measure divided the state’s business community. Opponents launched a fierce campaign against it, saying it would drive up utility rates and result in the loss of thousands of jobs. Advocates argued the bill would create thousands of green jobs, wean the state off expensive fossil fuels and create a cleaner environment, but they were on the defensive all spring.
The bill’s authors — Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, and Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona — ended up removing some of the more controversial language, including the California emissions standards, but kept the 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 standard in place.
An analysis state utility regulators performed at Black and Miller’s request found the bill could save the state as much as $3.7 billion in electricity costs over the next 15 years. But Decker and other Democrats remained convinced the proposal would drive up bills for residents and businesses — and cost them votes this November.
The Assembly was scheduled to take up the bill Tuesday but didn’t. That left only two days before the session ended Thursday, and Decker didn’t place the bill on the Senate’s final agenda.
“This bill epitomizes everything that’s wrong with lawmaking in modern-day America. Timid politicians, aggressive special interest groups, passive news media and a general unwillingness to do anything that could be controversial,” said Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor.
Black said he hoped legislative leaders or the governor would call an extra session to take up the bill.
Doyle’s spokesman Adam Collins said the governor might consider that if supporters could muster the votes to pass it.
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The next legislative session begins in January. Whether the bill returns then likely depends on which party wins control of the Legislature and the governor’s office in November.
Doyle isn’t running again. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is running as a Democrat, promised to revisit renewable energy if he won office. The two Republican candidates, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep Mark Neumann, oppose the bill.
A lobbyist for the state’s largest business group said the federal government should adopt a national policy on global warming rather than let states adopt a patchwork of standards that benefit some and not others.
“If you really want to do something about this, Wisconsin can’t do it,” James Buchen said.
Miller said supporters must get big businesses on board by convincing them to look beyond immediate profits and take a long-term view.
“The longer we delay, the more expensive it will become,” a visibly disappointed Miller said after the Senate adjourned. “We need to figure out a way to go forward. This is too important.”