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Congress must defend our lakes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 18:49

Everyone knew Donald Trump was no tree hugger or water worshipper. He made that perfectly clear when he told campaign audiences he would get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. And he underlined it when he appointed an EPA chief who promptly announced that efforts to kill the agency were justified. 

Then why are people across the Great Lakes region—local and state government officials, members of Congress, business leaders, citizens whose quality of life is dependent in various ways on lakes—taken aback by the Trump budget proposal to end the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) by shutting off its funding?

They are more than surprised—they are shocked—because what Trump proposes is not just neglect of one the world’s most precious natural wonders; it is a reckless move that threatens the health and economic well being of millions of Americans. 

The president, a big fan of branding, has given his budget a name—the “America First Budget,” a catchy but misleading tag for a document drafted by politicians who seem unaware that the Great Lakes region, which is home to more than 10% of the U.S. population, is part of America.

The programs of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative have been working since 2010, with local partnerships and shared funding, to not just restore lakes grievously damaged by industrial pollution, but to prevent catastrophic degradation of the lakes’ water quality and ecosystems by out-of-control algae growth and invasive species. This work is a critical need.

The Great Lakes region, the largest freshwater system in the world, contains 95% of this country’s fresh water, provides drinking water for 35 million Americans, supports 1.5 million jobs in tourism, boating and fishing and contributes $5 trillion in gross domestic product annually to the nation’s economy—so much economic production that if the region were a country it would have the world’s third largest economy.

Evidence of ongoing threats to the lakes is plentiful. Algae blooms like those that poisoned Toledo’s Lake Erie drinking water threaten Lake Michigan, especially Green Bay. Monstrous Asian carp, likely to be the most destructive invaders to attack the lakes, capable of wiping out valuable native and stocked fish species, are at the threshold of Lake Michigan. The GLRI has been instrumental in addressing these threats, among many others.

The stakes in the elimination of federal Great Lakes funding are enormous for Ozaukee County, whose entire eastern border is the Lake Michigan shore. The lake is instrumental in powering the county’s prosperity, especially for Port Washington, which would be nothing like the vital, growing community it is without the tourism revenue generated by the lake. 

The city and the surrounding area are also in danger of losing the benefits of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shipwreck sanctuary planned for this shore, thanks to deep cuts in NOAA funding proposed by the Trump administration.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker knows that his state has a stake in the health of Lake Michigan. Describing the lake as an asset both “from a commercial standpoint” and in “terms of quality of life,” he promises to advocate for the restoration of GLRI funding with the Trump administration and Congress.

Walker gets it, and so does Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is part of a bipartisan group of members of Congress working to save federal funding for the lakes. Governors, senators and representatives of other Great Lakes states have been outspoken in their condemnation of the budget’s death threat to Great Lakes restoration programs.

Yet, except for Baldwin, Wisconsin’s congressional delegation has been shamefully silent. Does Sen. Ron Johnson care about the lakes? Do Reps. Glenn Grothman and Jim Sensenbrenner understand the consequences for the lakes in the Trump budget? What about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, who happens to represent a Great Lakes state?

It’s hard to know whether the America First Budget’s treatment of the lakes is just another manifestation of White House incompetence—maybe they really haven’t taken the trouble to find out what the Great Lakes region contributes to America—or an irrational element of the plan to destroy the EPA.

Either way, it must be blocked by Congress. 

Spring forward into the dark PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 March 2017 17:04

What this politically polarized country needs is the tonic of an honest, enthusiastic, bipartisan action by Congress to improve the lives of the people of America.

Obviously, it won’t be health care, since one political party views Trumpcare as a curative medicine, while the other considers it a deadly poison.

The issue that should bring the two sides of Congress together for a brief burst of unified service to the nation is daylight saving time. Surely Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, can agree that their constituents should be spared the twice-a-year irritation of this foolish and pointless clock-setting ritual.

Damning testimony in a congressional hearing could be given by citizens of a northern latitude state such as Wisconsin. They would merely have to report what the March 12 spring-ahead DST adjustment has accomplished. 

The clock reset gives residents dark mornings. It forces commuters to drive to work in the dark and school children to wait for the bus in the dark. It provides more light in evenings, which is worthless this time of year except for those who consider it a plus to be able to shovel snow in daylight.

Studies have identified other effects: a spike in traffic crashes following the start of DST; reduced worker productivity; an increase in heart attacks, strokes and depression; a $147 million cost to airlines to cope with schedule adjustments.

Yes, but isn’t it worth putting up with this negative baggage to save energy? It might be if the clock changing really did reduce electricity demand, as DST was touted to do, but it doesn’t.

Changing clocks to reduce energy consumption is a century-old practice, so it has been studied ad infinitum. The current consensus of those studies is that, at best, DST has no effect on energy consumption. One frequently cited study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that it actually increases usage of electricity. 

Congress sets the dates for clock changing—and managed to make the effects more pernicious by adding a month to daylight saving time in 2007. States have the right to opt out, but only Hawaii and Arizona have done so, though many state legislatures have considered bail-out bills. Federal repeal would settle the matter.

Daylight saving time in the U.S. dates to World War I, when it was tried on the premise that it would reduce the need for electricity-producing coal, more of which could then be devoted to the war effort. 

Farmers are frequently blamed for being the instigators of DST, but it turns out they deserve credit for getting rid of it the first time around. It was abandoned after the war, according to Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” in response to a revolt of the farm lobby, which said the manipulation of the hours of sunshine conflicted with milking and crop harvesting schedules. 

The U.S. has been stuck with DST without interruption since Congress codified it in 1966 in spite of the absence of evidence that it is beneficial to its citizens. A possible explanation for Congress sticking with it is that an influential special interest group likes it. The retail lobby, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says having more light in the evening causes people to buy more in stores. 

So it seems daylight saving time is not about decreasing energy consumption—it’s about increasing shoppers’ consumption.

Acting in a way perceived to be inimical to shopping may be daunting, not to mention un-American, for some members of Congress, but they should look at daylight saving time as an opportunity for senators and representatives of both parties to earn their profiles in courage by working together to relieve America of a silly clock-setting mandate.

A cloud over government transparency PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 19:20

The people of Wisconsin should be told less about the actions of their elected officials.

That message is implicit in bills in the state Senate and Assembly that would repeal the state law requiring that meeting minutes, ordinances and budgets of municipalities and school districts be published in newspapers.

The bills would allow local governments to satisfy public notice requirements by posting the information on their own websites.

This legislation would make it harder for citizens to get information about their government and would be a setback for the transparency that is an essential element of democracy.

Newspaper publication of public notices, required by law in every state as one of the checks and balances of government, ensures an independent source of easily accessible government information—a permanent, unedited record of the actions of public officials.

Citizens should not have to search for this information on websites controlled by government agencies. It should be presented, as it is now, on the pages of the newspapers most citizens rely on for information about their elected governments.

Acting to reduce the availability of government information to the public is hard to defend, thus supporters of killing the newspaper public notice requirement have had to resort to the argument that it will save the taxpayers money.

Newspapers are paid to publish government minutes, budgets and ordinances. The rates are set by the state Department of Administration as part of detailed regulations that also specify the typestyle and size of the printed notices.

The payment rates, substantially less than commercial advertisers pay for newspaper space, barely cover the cost of processing and printing the information. 

In newspaper public notices, taxpayers get good value for expenditures that represent a tiny fraction of government budgets.

When Port Washington aldermen passed a resolution late last year supporting legislation to end the newspaper public notice requirement, it was in character for city officials who have often appeared insensitive to the public’s right to know about the actions of their elected representatives. 

The aldermen who urged state legislators to relieve them of the requirement to publish meeting minutes in Ozaukee Press, the city’s official newspaper, were the same Common Council members who held an unprecedented series of closed meetings from which the public and press were excluded in 2016. 

The meetings were mostly about the subject that has ignited strong public opposition, the proposed Blues Factory development on the lakefront, and were frequently followed by unanimous votes in favor of the development with little public discussion.

In a letter to the editor published in last week’s Ozaukee Press, Ald. Bill Driscoll exaggerated the potential savings of eliminating the newspaper public notice requirement by more than 50% and made dubious claims about declining newspaper readership (as does State Sen. Duey Stroebel in a letter in this issue of the Press).

Surveys have shown that Wisconsin residents depend on newspapers for information about government more than any other source. Circulation of community newspapers—those most affected by the proposed public notice change—remains robust. 

Readership of Ozaukee Press, the largest paid circulation community weekly in Wisconsin, is steady or growing in all of the communities the newspaper serves. In Port Washington, more than 75% of the households are reached by Ozaukee Press.

The Press, which devotes significant staff time and newspaper space to comprehensive coverage of local government in the communities it serves, is the primary source of public knowledge of local government issues in Ozaukee County. 

The official record of government activities, including the complete text of ordinances and budgets, belongs where citizens go to get information about their local government—in newspapers. Ending that is bad public policy that would erode open government. The public should not stand for it.

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