There were so many moments in the Walker-Burke debate worth sharing that it's difficult to choose which ones to write about. But this one may possibly be a classic, and it is certainly a bow to his Koch overlords.
Scott Walker was asked about whether he was uncomfortable with the environmental cost of mining in the woods as well as fracking.
QUESTION: Just this week, a couple [of fracking operations] were shut down after county regulators said they were dumping wastewater into an unlined pond and operating without a permit. A recent report by Wisconsin Public Radio says that 20 percent of the mines have been inspected by the DNR since July of last year to make sure they comply with air pollution rules. Do you think that the economic benefits such as the jobs created at these mines outweigh the environmental and health concerns of the residents and are the current regulations doing the job?
WALKER: Thanks to the gods and the glaciers, we have some of the best frack sands in the world. In many of our rural parts they've been a tremendous economic boom creating jobs and opportunities that many haven't seen in parts of the state of Wisconsin. From the West to the Northwest We want to continue to do that going forward.
That's why in the last budget I added additional positions to do those inspections in the state budget for the DNR. We're looking at tremendous growth, in fact it's because of that boom you've talked about we need to do more of that in the future. As we put our budget together if I'm still around we're going to add more positions, both because we want to keep up the pace for those legitimately here to operate as well as to make sure we protect the health and safety of everyone in and around those mines.
Yes, let's do have a look at how concerned Walker is with the health and safety of people in and around those sites. The New Republic looked carefully at the environmental impact of frac sand sites around the state in 2013 and found that the DNR was not doing its job very well.
Air quality permit reviews undertaken by the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates have found that the DNR is commonly issuing permits that treat frac sand sites as smaller emissions sources than they are in reality—placing them in a category that doesn’t require mine operators to police their own emissions, and where they receive less state scrutiny. In some cases, the DNR is setting emissions targets for frac sand facilities that don’t take into account the emissions already being generated by a nearby, existing mine. “You look at some of these, and there is no way they can meet their emissions goals,” said Sarah Williams, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates. “And the DNR doesn’t intend to monitor them to see if they do.”
That is entirely consistent with the conservative philosophy of scorched-earth no-regulation governance.
Mary Burke did not let Walker off the hook, raising the question of whether he's a bought-and-paid for politician, which he surely is.
BURKE: I do have concerns about whether we are balancing job creation with protecting our natural resources. There was legislation to try to take away local control so that local communities could be making decisions about what is best for them.
What I'm concerned about is that big money and special interests are driving the decisions in the governor's office instead of what's good for the people of Wisconsin and local communities to find that balance between jobs and protecting our natural resources.
What we have seen recently is that there was a secret $700,000 campaign contribution from out out-of-state corporation and Governor Walker changed the rules so that we have that corporation strip-mining in our North Woods. I think that most of the people of Wisconsin think that should be illegal, if it is not. I will not sell out to special interests. I will make sure that we make the best decisions for the people of Wisconsin, for local communities. I know that we can balance jobs and protecting natural resources.
Yes, that one landed. Landed hard. That $700,000 contribution is at the heart of the John Doe investigation that should have put Scott Walker in jail, not in a race for a second term.
But Walker let it flow right past him, while playing the usual petty Republican word game with the word "Democrat".
WALKER: There is bipartisan interest in this. Rod Moen, who used to be a Democrat member of the Senate and is now mayor of Whitehall. I joined with him and the mayor of Independence and other local officials to tour one of these new sites. He said at first he had some hesitation but when he went out and visited and saw what was being done, saw the operation, saw what's required out there. And saw the economic impact it had, both on the construction for a lot of great operating engineers and other union members who helped build that as well as long-term for the people who operate that. I think there can be a healthy balance between making sure we continue to add more staff to the DNR and make sure we can keep up with that boom, that pace out there --
And Burke drives it home.
Well, the fact remains that we haven't been able to find that balance between jobs and protecting the environment and that is what is important.
Scott Walker is a tool for oil companies and billionaires like the Kochs. A willing tool. He's quite good at dissembling, making sure he was writing furiously while Burke brought up the $700,000 payoff to get that mining operation working.
Still, it's not just that mining operation. Walker also deferred phosporous rules in order for Georgia Pacific -- a Koch-owned company -- to operate under the old standards for just a little longer.
Take phosphorous. The Kochs own Georgia Pacific paper, the Wisconsin plants of which spent years dumping excess phosphorous into the state’s waterways. In 2010, an appeals court ruled that the public could challenge the permit that allowed the company to do so, while the state’s natural resources board adopted new regulations to cut down on the dumping. Enter Walker. His first budget bill included a passage that would reduce the board’s new limits; a separate announcement put a two-year moratorium on the 2010 phosphorous rules.
I expect we will hear more about that in the second debate, when environmental and health issues take center stage.