MILWAUKEE – Four panelists discussed barriers preventing Wisconsin from lowering its carbon emissions in the final session of Marquette University’s O’Brien Fellowship Conference this past week. Panel members Kevin Croswhite, Charles Franklin, Erin Heffernan and Gary Radloff each gave a different view of the issue to conference attendees.
The panelists each presented their argument for the central question of whether or not the government should have to take action for the environment. Radloff, director of Midwest energy policy analysis for the Wisconsin Energy Institute, spoke first. He used several slides of data to make his point.
“Wisconsin has completely gone the opposite way of the U.S. trend,” Radloff said, referring to a slide from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism outlining national solar PV trends. “The U.S. trend for solar PV is going off the charts. In Wisconsin, just in the last 3 to 4 years has taken this incredible dive. It’s all about public policy.”
Radloff detailed how certain policies in Wisconsin were making it difficult for solar PV to become a more beneficial source of energy in the state, such as the third-party business rule.
Erin Heffernan, the 2013 O’Brien Fellowship Intern and Marquette alumna, spoke next. During her time interning with the fellowship, she visited the town of Forrest, Wisconsin with Seattle Times reporter and 2013 fellow, Hal Bernton. She reflected on her time in the barely 600-person town, where she saw the divide created by the debate over a wind farm proposal.
“One of the biggest complaints these people had was that wind turbines make people sick,” Heffernan said. Though she was unable to confirm or deny that claim in her reporting, Heffernan was able to delve into the arguments that ordinary people had over alternative energy solutions.
On a larger and more representative scale, Charles Franklin detailed the results of a poll released by the Marquette Law School. The nationally recognized pollster has directed the Marquette Law School Poll since it began in 2012. The results showed that though there was no influence of income on the belief about whether or not global warming was real, when it came to the support of a revenue-neutral tax on fossil fuels, wealthier people were more opposed.
“It means that the education effect is driving up support [for a carbon tax], while the higher income is driving down support,” Franklin said. “You have a social status effect that pushes in opposite directions on a solution.”
The results are indicative of the complexities surrounding environmental policy. According to the poll, 63 percent of people surveyed believed that global warming was real while 31 percent did not. Yet, in terms of a carbon tax, the vote was less decisive. There were many more factors coming into play around the issue of how to deal with the problem than whether or not there was one. One of these factors is partisanship.
Kevin Croswhite, Wisconsin state director for the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI), was then presented with the major question left after the other panelists had their say: Is a bipartisan solution possible?
Croswhite mentioned that the conservatives that make up E&EI believe that climate change is real and that something should be done about it. He said that a revenue-neutral carbon tax would not harm the economy, so long as taxes were cut from elsewhere, preferably the income tax. Croswhite also addressed the potential argument of international competitiveness by saying that in order to get other countries to make equal cuts in carbon emissions, tariffs should be put into place. He brought the panelists’ speeches to an end with the hope for such a solution.
“Conservatives don’t have to choose between addressing climate change or hurting the economy, we’re keeping the economy strong with this policy.”
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