Railroad That Got State Wetland-Filling Permit Contributed $60K+ to Walker

March 11, 2015

A railroad that got a state permit to fill part of a western Wisconsin marsh in order to expand shipments of crude oil through Wisconsin contributed more than $60,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker since the beginning of 2010.

The permit to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway was approved last month by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The permit allows the railroad to fill about seven acres of the La Crosse River Marsh and build a bridge over the river in order to add about four miles of new tracks.

Earlier this week, a citizens group, called Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, and Midwest Environmental Advocates challenged the permit in court, contending the DNR’s environmental study of the project didn’t meet the requirements of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act.

The group is concerned the DNR failed to follow the law by not considering the cumulative, direct and indirect impacts of the project on the environment, especially given the damage done by train derailments in recent weeks in Illinois and West Virginia that involved crude oil shipments.

Walker’s DNR has been criticized in recent years by environmental advocates for lax enforcement of environmental laws and being too friendly to business and other special interests it is in charge of regulating.

Walker accepted $45,000 from Burlington Northern's political action committee, and the railroad's executives, mostly from outside Wisconsin, gave the governor $15,570 between 2010 and Oct. 20, 2014. The top Burlington Northern contributors to Walker were Paul Nowicki and Nicole Herbst, both of Chicago, Ill. at $5,000 each; and Mathew Rose, of Westlake, Tex. at $2,500.

The railroad industry as a whole contributed more than $128,000 to Walker between 2010 and Oct. 20, 2014.