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Columbia power plant

The Columbia power plant near Portage is one of the state's coal-fired power plants.

Some important numbers stand out after the climate agreement was signed in Paris:

• $20 billion in new funding for research and development on climate solutions.

• 800 of the world largest corporations signing on to address climate change.

• 400 mayors from around the world meeting to make their cities healthier and more livable.

• Nearly 200 nations committing to a common goal of reducing global warming.

• 2.0 degree Celsius — with a preferred lower rate — of global warming set as a single unifying goal.

• 1 state — Wisconsin — not moving ahead with a plan to implement a Clean Power Plan in the United States.

That’s right: The cheese stands alone.

Wisconsin continues to gamble on a dangerous, negative strategy that every major country and every major corporation in the world came to grips with in Paris: the inevitability of carbon regulation in one form or another.

Wisconsin does not stand alone in one sense. It has joined a cohort of Republican-led states to fight the Obama administration’s CPP standards, which aim to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by 2030. The administration is required to develop national policies on greenhouse gas pollution in accordance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

But even a conservative state like Kansas, which is also part of that litigation, is nonetheless working on a state plan to meet the federal standards. Wisconsin, the only state not to even start a plan, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council, is putting all its chips on delay through litigation. It’s a dangerous bet for a lot of reasons, but two stand out.

First, we are walking away from early-action incentives and credits that would lower our ultimate cost of compliance. Second, if we do not develop our own plan, the federal government has to impose one on us. Our utilities can’t want that. None of us should, when we could be designing our own energy future. 

By its inaction, Wisconsin not only turns its back on the findings of the scientific community, but also ignores its own business interests in favor of an ideological position that is sure to lose eventually. We are clearly on the wrong side of history.

An alternative is sitting on a shelf in my office. It is Gov. Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force report from 2008 that I co-chaired, along with utility executive Roy Thilly. Designed from the ground up after a year of hearings, the report — if enacted — would have put Wisconsin on track to be a leader in the clean energy economy. 

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We had buy-in from businesses, utilities, elected officials of both parties, environmental groups and citizens on recommendations for increased investment in energy efficiency and new jobs, for strong renewable energy standards and for tough, but reachable, emission reduction targets.  

But little of that was acted on. So instead of leading, Wisconsin has fallen far behind on helping protect public health and the environment, growing the economy and providing energy security for its citizens. We must now look for leadership to other states, like Minnesota, which has spent the last year in a productive and robust conversation about what they want their energy future to look like.

Denying the science, telling state employees not to talk about it, ordering the DNR not to work on it leaves us all in the lurch on the issue. And ultimately it hurts our environment AND our economy.

Wisconsin deserves better. We already have a set of recommendations designed by Wisconsinites for Wisconsin. Let’s get them off the shelf and get back to work on a conversation about what we want our future to be. We can’t afford to stand alone in the nation.

Tia Nelson is managing director of the Outrider Foundation, a Madison-based, globally focused not-for-profit dedicated to providing comprehensive, science-based information on issues affecting the long-term well-being of the planet.

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