Bill to Ease Sulfur Dioxide Pollution Enforcement Goes to Walker

March 21,2016

Smoke Stacks

A Republican bill to reduce state regulation of sulfur dioxide pollution caused by coal-burning utilities and some large manufacturers and cut funding for a popular energy efficiency program awaits action by GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

The measure, Assembly Bill 804, is backed by the utility industry and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group whose 3,500-member businesses cover more than a dozen special interests. The bill was approved last week by the Senate on a 19-13 party line vote.

Under AB804, large utilities would no longer have to submit annual plans to the state that show how they will comply with sulfur dioxide emissions limits. In addition, state regulators would no longer be required to recommend to the legislature that it adopt sulfur dioxide enforcement limits if regulators believe sulfur dioxide emissions will exceed 325,000 tons a year.

AB804 also changes the way utilities fund the Focus on Energy program to effectively cut $7 million a year from the program. The change was made because the current funding formula amounts to a double tax for some utilities, according to the state Public Service Commission.

Clean Wisconsin, one of the bill’s opponents, says cutting the Focus on Energy program will ultimately cost ratepayers by adding $60 million a year to business and homeowner energy costs.

Between January 2011 and December 2015, current Republican legislators accepted about $627,300 from energy interests, and most of that came from gas and electric utilities.

Walker accepted about $532,200 from energy interests between January 2011 and December 2015. Walker's top utility industry political action committee and employee contributions grouped by employer include some of the utilities which backed the bill, including:

WEC Energy Group, $245,513;

Alliant Energy, $81,723;

Madison Gas & Electric, $25,055;

Xcel Energy/Northern States Power, $22,775;

American Transmission Co., $18,850.