By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Environmentalists balked Friday at Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to sue the federal government over new limits on power plants’ carbon emissions, saying the governor is ignoring climate change and simply wants to show he opposes government regulation as he mulls a presidential bid.
Walker has been working to paint himself as a reformer who opposes big government since he won re-election to the governorship in November. He announced during his State of the State speech on Tuesday that he’s collaborating with Attorney General Brad Schimel on a lawsuit challenging the emissions limits.
The governor said the standards would result in soaring electric bills as utilities spend billions to comply and threaten the state’s manufacturing sector.
“These proposals could have a devastating impact on Wisconsin because we are so heavily dependent on manufacturing,” he said. “Instead of fighting with states like Wisconsin, the federal government should work with us to find reasonable alternatives.”
Shahla Werner, the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter director, said Walker’s announcement was disappointing but not surprising given his presidential aspirations. She said warnings of excessive compliance costs and job loss are overblown. Moving to more renewable energy sources will create local jobs and reduce health ailments such as asthma over the long run, she said.
“(Walker) argues against anything the federal government proposes. I really think this is the playbook, and you have to follow the script if you run for president,” Werner said. “They’re crying like the sky is falling when in actuality we can do this pretty easily.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June announced specific carbon dioxide emissions targets for all states as part of its effort to reduce pollutants blamed for global warming. The agency expects to issue finalized rules this summer.
The plan for Wisconsin calls for lowering emissions to 1,203 pounds per megawatt-hour of energy produced by 2030, down 34 percent from the 1,827 pounds of emissions in 2012, according to the EPA.
Walker sent a letter to the EPA in December, complaining that Wisconsin utilities have already invested billions in producing renewable energy. He said state regulators estimate that compliance with the limits could cost as much as $13.4 billion in Wisconsin alone, and that doesn’t include costs to build pipelines and other infrastructure to accommodate more natural gas use. All in all, the limits could send electric rates climbing by as much as 29 percent, Walker said.
Republican governors in 14 other states joined Walker in sending comments raising similar concerns questions to the EPA in November.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key GOP supporter, issued a statement Wednesday applauding Walker and Schimel for “fighting to keep manufacturing competitive in Wisconsin and to protect the pocketbooks of all Wisconsinites from skyrocketing utility bills.”
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters said Walker was in denial about climate change, saying he was “trying to score political points with his polluting allies by putting his national ambitions ahead of what’s right for Wisconsin.”