A judge disagreeing with the Public Service Commission may not be the David-and-Goliath-moment that restores faith in our system. But, it’s a beginning.
Last week, a judge determined a community’s challenge regarding need and routing of the Badger-Coulee transmission line was filed on time, despite PSC contention it was not. The tiny town of Holland, and a group of individuals whose principles would not let them give up, were behind the challenge.
A similar challenge to the CapX2020 power line also found the PSC arguing an administrative technicality in its attempt to block court review of its approval. The PSC won, and that decision has not been officially scrutinized by anyone but those who made the contested decision.
Today, the massive CapX2020 project is nearing completion. Once Badger-Coulee plugs into CapX2020, the pathway opens to spend billions more of ratepayer money on thousands more miles of new transmission. Badger-Coulee construction began, despite not having secured all federal permits. Worse, the PSC lifted requirements that permits be in place prior to construction, because utilities asked the PSC to do so.
Also today, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers are considering the required incidental-kill and wetland-fill permits. Their review process presumes that project need and less damaging alternatives were appropriately considered in PSC approval.
With these issues at the core of Holland’s legal challenge, the situation is gray and sticky — ethically if not legally – and not one where a good-faith permit can be issued.
First, permittees cannot presume the PSC decision will hold. Second, the DNR, as co-author of the Environmental Impact Statement, has higher requirements than the PSC in assessing need, impacts and alternatives.
The DNR is legally charged with setting an example in meeting “the spirit and intent” of the Wisconsin Environmental Protection Act, and for ensuring consideration of reasonably available alternatives to achieve the same or altered purpose of the proposed project. The Holland challenge, and testimony in the Badger-Coulee hearing, demonstrate that less costly and less invasive alternatives were given lip-service rather than due consideration.
The DNR also is required to consider cumulative impacts of past, current and likely future transmission expansion. However, the total economic and environmental impacts of the expansion plan, of which Badger-Coulee and CapX2020 are mere parts, have not been publicly (if ever) fully assessed.
With the courts considering whether the PSC approved an unnecessary line, and the DNR delinquent in its role, allowing further construction, permitting and irreversible financial and environmental costs is not only bad policy but ethically wrong.
Whether it is attempts to privatize Wisconsin’s water supply or ease the way for new nuclear generation by not requiring all costs be considered or that a disposal solution for waste be in place, it appears that Wisconsin policymakers are waging war on citizens and the environment.
Before Wisconsin becomes a Flint, Mich., on a statewide level, we must demand that citizen and community interests be protected and placed ahead of corporate profits and a monopolistic business model.
To Wisconsin’s great harm, Wisconsin policymakers have put in place statutes that say “continue on.” Yet there are also ways to interpret these statutes that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that good-faith permitting cannot be done, and construction should be paused. To proceed with either would be a further violation of public trust.
I applaud the victory of the town of Holland. Rather than allow it to be a hollow victory, it is time for our collective voice to remind Wisconsin legislators and government agencies that it is we the people they are meant to serve. Challenging policies that allow Badger-Coulee construction and permitting to proceed while the courts are reviewing its approval is a good place to start.
Asking legislators to sponsor an injunction would be even better.