By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — With the November election six weeks away, neither Republican Gov. Scott Walker nor Democratic challenger Mary Burke has put forward any grand strategies for new environmental or outdoors policies.
In a race that has revolved largely around who can create jobs, both candidates are sticking to general comments about balancing economic development with the need to protect natural resources.
Walker’s record is clear. He spent his first four years in office reversing environmental regulations.
Burke, a Madison Board of Education member mounting her first bid for a statewide office, has no environmental record. But that didn’t bother the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter, which endorsed her.
“I don’t mind some of the vagaries,” said Shahla Werner, the chapter director. “We’re just asking for someone to use common sense in making sure our drinking water is safe and development isn’t going to have huge negatives for the environment. It’s been so partisan and ideological rather than data-based for the last four years. We can’t even reason with elected officials.”
Walker spent his first term pushing business-supported environmental initiatives, leading his opponents to accuse him of politicizing the Department of Natural Resources.
He created a new DNR office to support businesses and ordered the agency to take a softer approach in dealing with the public. The number of environmental violations the DNR has referred to the state Justice Department for enforcement has dropped 60 percent since Walker took office.
The governor signed legislation giving wastewater-treatment plants, paper mills and food processors 20 years to comply with the state’s phosphorus pollution limits. He also signed a Republican bill relaxing mining regulations to help jump-start Gogebic Taconite’s plans for an iron mine near Lake Superior despite conservationists’ concerns about pollution in the pristine region.
Walker has taken several steps welcomed by hunters, including eliminating an unpopular DNR program that required hunters in areas with large deer herds kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck. He also hired a Texas researcher to study how the agency could improve relations with hunters. And he signed a bill creating a wolf hunt, despite complaints from animal rights advocates.
Eric Bott, the environmental policy director for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, said his organization is pleased with Walker. WMC officials want the governor to speed up air and water permits and stand up for businesses as the state crafts a strategy to meet the Obama’s administration’s call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during the next four years, he said.
“We’ve seen the governor is really focused on improving the regulatory process,” Bott said. “We would expect those reforms to continue.”
According to an email attributed to Walker’s campaign spokeswoman, Alleigh Marré, the governor learned from his experience as a Boy Scout and leaving his campsite cleaner than he found it.
“He applies the same approach to protecting our natural resources today,” according to the email. “Governor Walker believes that the best way to be green is to help people save green or make green. If individuals can save or make money while preserving natural resources, it is both economically and environmentally sustainable.”
Burke, meanwhile, never held a Wisconsin hunting or fishing license, according to the DNR. According to her campaign website, she opposes the iron mine because Republicans let Gogebic Taconite write its own rules, and she wants communities to impose local sand mining regulations rather have the state dictate uniform standards. The site offers almost no other specifics on her environmental or outdoors agendas, though.
According to an email attributed to Burke’s campaign spokeswoman, Stephanie Wilson, Burke would ensure the agency enforces current environmental law, appoint a DNR secretary with a science-based background, rely on science to manage the state’s deer and wolf hunts, and protect water quality. According to the email, Burke would work with legislators to ensure responsible mining, though there was no explanation in the email about how that would happen.
Jeff Schinkten, president of Sturgeon Bay-based Whitetails Unlimited, said his group is happy Walker has paid attention to deer hunting, but he added that the a lot depends on how the DNR implements the recommendations of the Texas researcher . He said he knows little about Burke.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said Burke seems to be looking at topics from a macro level and he’s pleased she’s committed to science.
“That,” Meyer said, “would be a breath of fresh air after this administration.”