When a Bill is on the Fast Track – Watch out!

One of the lessons I learned from my first year as State Senator is when a bill is put on the fast track, people get left behind. The most recent example is a bill that would set rules governing where wind energy towers are placed.

In a single week, the bill went from being introduced through two public hearings to a committee vote.  What I was told is the bill had to be done right away because the tax credits for energy companies are running out.   What I thought was that citizen involvement is being sacrificed for a few bucks in the pockets of developers.

Everyone agrees that citizens should be involved in environmental questions.  The questions we face in placing wind towers is where citizen involvement should take place, how the decisions should be made and who should make them.

A good example of finding common ground through citizen involvement occurred a few years ago in the siting of livestock facilities.  To resolve the problem, many public meetings were held and the Legislature created a citizen Livestock Siting Board. The process involved public decision making and resulted in some measure of local control.

It was not a perfect process. It was a slow process. But it got the job done.

When I first learned about the wind siting bill, I was told the state would follow a similar process in siting wind towers. Then I read the bill.

There was no procedure in the bill similar to the Livestock Siting Law. The bill kept the setting of standards with the state entity that regulates utilities – the Public Service Commission. The bill provided for no more public input than the usual rule making that follows most new laws.

Where to put wind towers is not a new issue in our Senate District. Wind energy developers have been eyeing the bluffs along the Mississippi River and the ridges in Monroe County for some time. Local government has responded to the challenge by involving local citizens and crafting local ordinances.  Many local residents studied wind energy and helped develop the ordinances.  

These same people traveled to Madison to testify at the two hearings on the companion bills in the Senate and the Assembly. Despite the short public notice, hundreds of people participated in seven hour long hearings.

People told me the legislature’s swift action on the bills made them feel their own experiences in developing local ordinances were in vain. They felt the state needed to follow a similar deliberative process that local governments had followed.

After reading and researching the bill, I crafted an amendment to create a citizen board with real decision making power in both wind siting rules and the appeals process. That process would be similar to what we had been told was already in the bill – following the lessons learned from the Livestock Siting Law.

I thank Senator Rob Cowles (R – Green Bay) for introducing my amendment in the Senate Commerce, Utilities and Rail Committee on Friday. Unfortunately the amendment failed by one vote.

I will work with my colleagues to again try to amend the bill when it comes to the Senate floor. This may happen as soon as this week. And I will encourage my colleagues to slow down the process.  It is much more important to take our time and get it right than it is to act quickly just to increase the profits of a few energy companies.