Shortly after helping to elect Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Koch Industries opened a new lobbying office in Madison near the state capitol. However, little has been disclosed about the Koch lobbying agenda in Madison. The New York Times reported that Koch political operatives privately pressured Walker to crush public employee unions. But Walker’s major payback to Koch relates to environmental deregulation.
ThinkProgress has learned that the Walker administration, along with state Supreme Court judge David Prosser, has quietly worked to allow Koch’s many Georgia Pacific paper plants to pollute Wisconsin by pouring thousands of pounds of phosphorus into the water.
Koch’s Georgia Pacific plants are well known for releasing large amounts of phosphorus into Wisconsin’s waterways. A report by the state government showed that Georgia Pacific is responsible for about 9% of total phosphorus pollution in the Lower Fox River near Green Bay.
In 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) issued a permit to Koch’s Georgia Pacific company to nearly double its phosphorus pollution in the Fox River. A group of Wisconsin citizens challenged the permit the following year, claiming the DNR’s permit violated the Clean Water Act. In 2010, the Wisconsin Third District Court of Appeals ruled that the public has a right to challenge the permit, and that the DNR did not appropriately hold public hearings. Around the same time, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board adopted “sweeping regulations” to control phosphorus pollution to slow down “runaway algae growth.”
To fight the challenge to the permit, as well as new regulations on phosphorus, Koch’s close allies in the Walker administration and the Wisconsin Supreme Court went into action:
— Rewriting Environmental Regulations For Koch: Last year, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board called for strict numeric limits on phosphorus pollution. The regulations, which were supposed to be implemented in January, were delayed by Walker’s administration. Hidden inside his infamous budget bill passed in March, Walker then inserted a provision to revise and reduce the phosphorus limits proposed by the Natural Resources Board. Walker’s budget bill was rushed through the legislative process without public hearings.
— Ruling In Favor Of Koch And Other Polluters: In March, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with Justice David Prosser voting with the majority, overturned the lower court decision allowing a public challenge to the permit giving Koch’s Georgia Pacific plants more leeway in dumping phosphorus into waterways.
— Delaying Environmental Regulations For Koch: Earlier this month, the Walker administration announced a two year delay of all phosphorus regulations passed last year. Not only has Walker’s administration called for reduced phosphorus dumping rules, they now have made it clear that no rules will be implemented until 2013.
During this three month period of Koch-enriching policy and legal action, the Koch political largesse has flowed to both Walker and Prosser. The Koch political machine spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads supporting Walker during the budget showdown, organized pro-Walker Tea Party rallies, and mobilized a pro-Walker bus tour. During his recent reelection campaign, Prosser too was boosted by two Koch-linked groups, Citizens for a Strong America and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which ran about $1 million in advertising. A top Georgia Pacific executive overseeing plants responsible for dumping phosphorus in the Fox River sits on the board of the pro-Posser group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.