Demagogue shouldn’t delay clean water rule

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal  on April 16, 2011

Demagogue shouldn’t delay clean water rule

(What will our children live on?)

 by Karl Garson

Spring election day, Tuesday, April 5, was a good day to be alive in Wisconsin, especially if you were lucky enough to be driving south from La Crosse along State Highway 35 with evening coming on. I was that lucky.

A few miles from La Crosse, the highway veers westward and begins to follow the Mississippi closely. There, especially at this time of year with the river at flood stage, it looks closer than ever.

While the election returns were beginning to come in I drove south. As I neared Stoddard hundreds of white pelicans appeared near the close river bank. Just past the town a flock of canvasbacks had settled onto wetlands bisected by the raised roadway. Above the broad pond formed behind the dam at Genoa great formations of geese circled, displaying skills no human aviator will ever duplicate.

The Mississippi is Wisconsin’s west coast, just as Lake Michigan is its eastern shore and Lake Superior forms part of its northern boundary. We are bound by these waters entrusted to our care even more than we are by the arbitrary lines separating us from neighboring Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. They provide the haven during their seasonal migrations for the waterfowl gracing my drive south from La Crosse. They also provide a living and enjoyment for commercial and sport fishermen. They are the joy of boaters, swimmers and campers. They inspire travelers, artists and writers and comfort those who drive along them on the way to and from what may be less than comforting tasks.

And so it seems to me both baffling and unconscionable that anyone should suggest holding back ways to protect these waters. Yet, what seems baffling and unconscionable to me, and perhaps to many more, seems a perfectly logical economic imperative to Governor Scott Walker who has proposed holding off for two years tougher regulations on phosphorus pollution of the state’s lakes, rivers and streams.

Walker’s argument, one echoed by his DNR Secretary, Cathy Stepp, is that it will be too expensive for the state’s municipalities to upgrade their water treatment facilities to meet effective new standards for phosphorous control approved by the Wisconsin DNR board in June, 2010. So, in step with Walker’s wishes, the new DNR secretary has asked that an imposition of the new standards be held off for two years. During that time phosphorous from commercial fertilizers and manure will promote algae growth that will continue to choke the state’s waters and diminish oxygen levels in them. Everything living in them and dependant upon them will be diminished as well.

The money argument thrown down by Walker and his fellow Republicans is as tiresome as it is specious. The governor keeps crying out about mortgaging the future of our grandchildren and great grandchildren as if they are or will be incompetent, unimaginative idiots who can’t be expected to take care of their own expenses while at the same time figuring out how to clear up the mess we’ve spend multiple decades creating for them?

Time to cut the apron strings on that argument.  Time to read recently published accounts calling into question Walker’s notion that Wisconsin is broke. Time to call Scott Walker what he has quickly become, an ordinary demagogue du jour bent on promoting short sightedness at the expense of the environment.

Time to remind Scott Walker that, yes, it’s time to start paying our bills today and to do that it’s time for him to muster the courage to tell us that we will have to pay higher taxes, not to save our kids, but to fully fund the costs of running a state noted for the beauty and cleanliness of its lands and waters.

One of those costs is connected to providing clean, clear water for us, our kids and their future children. If we don’t, our kids and their children are going to ask, “What will we live on?” And it won’t be money they’ll be talking about.

This is a link to the column:

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