WMC Recognizes High-Capacity-Well Backer with “Environmental” Award

August 9, 2018

Award and Potato Field Under Irrigation

An industry group that helped spearhead a state law that loosened state oversight and regulation of controversial high-capacity wells has received an environmental award from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).

The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and eight companies received WMC’s Business Friend of the Environment Award earlier this month. The award winners were selected by a panel that included a representative from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which enforces environmental laws. The DNR has been on the panel that selects the WMC environmental award winners at least as far back as 1999.

The DNR under Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been frequently criticized by Democrats, environmental groups, and others as being too friendly toward business and polluters and soft on enforcing environmental laws.

Last year, Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature approved a bill that eliminates state reviews of existing permits for any high-capacity wells when they are repaired, replaced, or sold in a real estate transaction. High-capacity wells allow users, which include large farms, food processors, and frac-sand operations, to pump at least 100,000 gallons of water a day for irrigation and other needs.

Environmentalists, tourism interests, outdoor enthusiasts, and nearby property owners say high-capacity wells have caused some rivers, lakes, and streams around the state to shrink or even dry up during the summer, damaging fish, wildlife, and their habitat.

During the last half of 2016, which was only months before the bill’s introduction and passage, several large potato, vegetable, and cranberry farms made $101,250 in corporate and personal contributions, including $78,500 from officers and board members of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, their families, workers, and businesses.

In addition, WMC, which is the state’s largest business group, has spent an estimated $19.9 million since 2010 on mostly undisclosed, outside electioneering activities to support Republican and conservative legislative and statewide candidates.