Will Senate Race Draw From Candidates' Environmental Arsenals?

Aug 16, 2012

Click to Enlarge PhotoA worker at Helios Solar Works in the Menomonee Valley gives Democrat Tammy Baldwin a tour the morning after the Wisconsin Primary
Credit Susan Bence

Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race is blazing full steam ahead after former Governor Tommy Thompson defeated three challengers in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Both he and Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin hit the campaign circuit hours later.

WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence takes an initial look at how environmental issues might play into the race.

Peruse their campaign websites, and you will not find plans for how either candidate would address issues such as global warming or storm water contamination.

Three months ago, Tommy Thompson did dip his toes into the freshwater arena when he made an early – little noticed - campaign pledge. Thompson was standing next to a handful of Milwaukee Water Council members.

“Today I am proposing the creation of the National Institutes for Freshwater Science and Technology to be located here in Milwaukee,” Thompson says.

If elected, Thompson promised to rally Senate support to bring all of the federal government’s freshwater expertise under one roof – in Milwaukee.

“Its mission would be to contribute to the expertise, the information and the tools that people in community needs to protect our freshwater resources. It would not be a regulatory agency; it would be a source for new solutions,” Thompson says.

Thompson envisions a federal infusion augmenting Milwaukee’s efforts to become an internationally recognized water research and technology hub.

The morning after this week’s primary election, Tammy Baldwin visited an existing operation in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley. Workers – operating a state-of-the-art robotic system – are manufacturing solar panels.

Yet Baldwin did not dance around her reason for calling the press here – and it was not to preach “renewable energy production”.

“I have made bringing back manufacturing to Wisconsin a key priority. Manufacturing has taken it on the chin in this state; we are one of the top manufacturing states in the country, but we’ve seen way too many of those jobs go oversees, too many plants close down,” Baldwin says.

According to the Democratic candidate, sometimes federal environmental standards deliver a blow to manufacturers here, by putting them at a disadvantage against countries, such as China and its hard-to-beat prices.

Baldwin sites a new EPA standard facing paper makers – Wisconsin’s renowned industry.

“It’s a rule called “boiler mact”. Everyone that I’ve talked to in the paper industry - the leaders, the workers - think that clean water and clean air is important, but we can’t have an unrealistic expectations of how they modify their boilers, we have to have a realistic expectation – so I’m fighting to make it realistic,” Baldwin says.

Michael Kraft thinks Tammy Baldwin’s comment on the constraints of EPA rules could be infrequent.

He’s professor emeritus of political science at UW Green Bay.

“Normally environmental, energy and natural resource issues are not very prominent in senate campaigns,” Kraft says.

But Kraft adds, whomever is elected, Thompson or Baldwin, will be voting on dozens and dozens of measures related to the environment.

“Oil and gas drilling, natural gas; development on federal land, including fracking as a way to produce gas which can threaten freshwater, groundwater resources. There will be action on EPA rules dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, dealing with coal-fired power plant and that directly effects the Great Lakes because coal plants release mercury and fine particulates and mercury certainly is a major contaminant in freshwater bodies across the country, which is what we is what leads primarily to fish advisories,” Kraft says.

With issues so complex and intertwined, it’s not surprising candidates don’t raise them on the campaign trail.

If they do bubble up this time around in Wisconsin, Kraft predicts the competitors will stick with universally expected party line rhetoric.

“Republicans tend to argue against what they would term access of job-killing regulations, including environmental regulation,” Kraft says.

While Democrats, the political scientist says, will promote policies they deem protective of public health and the environment.