With the final polls showing an extremely close race between incumbent Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) and challenger Mary Burke (D), an influx of last-minute donations and high-profile supporters indicate the importance of the race on a national scale. Since he first rose to prominence by signing a bill prohibiting state workers from collective bargaining in 2011, a move that sparked months of protests and a recall effort, Walker has continued to push a conservative agenda, with climate and environmental issues being no exception.
Climate change has been far from a priority for Walker and he has never gone into detail publicly about his views on the subject. He did, however, sign the ‘No Climate Tax Pledge,’ backed by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, in which the more than 400 signatories pledged not to support any measure that will increase government revenues — like a price on carbon emissions.
As governor, Walker “has delivered on his campaign promise to speed up and simplify permits for environmentally sensitive activities like mining and digging high-capacity wells,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported. In addition, the paper pointed out, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) under Walker has issued significantly fewer violation notices to polluters than under the previous administration; he has assisted the boom in frac sand mining, which poses serious threats to the environment and public health; and the governor ushered in “a rewrite of the state mining laws, which Gogebic Taconite said it needed to dig a giant iron mine in the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin.”
On clean energy — widely supported among Wisconsin voters, according to a recent poll — Walker has been no better. When he was first running for governor, Walker “received at least $1.5 million in campaign cash directly from interests opposed to wind energy,” and promptly changed wind energy siting rules, a move advocates said cost the state about 1,000 jobs in the sector.
Burke, on the other hand, has embraced more progressive positions on a number of issues in her quest to become Wisconsin’s first female governor. In its endorsement of Burke, the Sierra Club cited her support for clean energy, sustainable transit, and increased control over frac sand mining operations. The League of Conservation Voters echoed those points, adding her stated commitment to protecting the state’s natural resources.
“I believe Wisconsin should commit to exploring and implementing wind, solar, and biomass energy. More efficient energy sources go hand in hand with conservation and powering our future in an economically and environmentally appropriate manner,” Burke told the League of Women Voters in response to their questionnaire. “As Governor, I will look to other states for best practices on how we can encourage capital investment in green energy projects which have the potential to create jobs right here in Wisconsin to inform our overall strategy.”
Matt Neumann, owner of solar energy company SunVest, said that while he believes (and hopes) that Walker will win, he’s ready to move on to actually growing the state’s renewable energy industry. “I want to get politics out of the way so we can get something done,” he told ThinkProgress on Tuesday.
“Regardless of whether it’s Burke or Walker, I think we’re going to have positive things coming through the state legislature on clean energy. I have confidence the Republican party is going to listen and learn a lot about clean energy, specifically solar,” Neumann added. “Conservatives would have to violate their core principals not to support this stuff.”