Nearly four years after it banned staff from advocating for climate change-related policies, the state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands unanimously voted to lift what it called a gag order.
The board, made up of the state’s three constitutional officers, had passed the order banning public lands staff from climate change advocacy in April 2015. The ban was proposed after commissioners learned then-executive secretary Tia Nelson — who is the daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson — had served on a task force on global warming.
At that time, two of the three commissioners were Republicans Brad Schimel, then-state attorney general, and Matt Adamczyk, then-state treasurer. Both voted for the ban while Democrat Doug La Follette, secretary of state, cast the opposing vote.
In defense of the ban, Adamczyk said at the time that climate change is unrelated to the board’s mission of managing lands and trust funds.
Now, with all three positions held by Democrats — La Follette, who is still secretary of state, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Treasurer Sarah Godlewski — the ban was repealed.
Not taking climate change into consideration is “completely reckless,” Godlewski, who is also the board chairwoman, said Friday.
“Our investments can be impacted by erratic weather and natural disasters that can affect commodity prices and cause markets to tumble,” Godlewski said.
The board provides money from a $1.2 billion endowment fund for school libraries and makes loans to municipalities and school districts. It also manages 77,000 acres of timber land.
Last year, investment income provided $35.7 million to school libraries across Wisconsin.
In addition to repealing the global warming ban, the board also voted to accept applications from school districts looking to finance energy-efficiency projects.
In 2015, the board initially passed language that barred any work relating to climate change, drawing national attention as Democrats and conservationists decried it as a gag order and direct rebuke of Tia Nelson. The language was modified two months later to just prohibit advocacy or lobbying related to climate change.
Nelson had served on former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s global warming task force in 2007 and 2008. She had traveled to Washington, D.C., on board time to testify about global warming before a House subcommittee on energy.
Nelson said she had not done any further work relating to climate change advocacy since the task force disbanded years earlier, but Adamczyk, who was a strong critic of Nelson, called for her to be fired in March 2015.
Nelson resigned her position in July of that year and took a job as managing director of the Outrider Foundation, a climate change advocacy organization.
The move to lift the ban comes as Godlewski has been trying to raise the profile of the treasurer’s office, which had its duties severely curtailed in recent years by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Voters last year rejected a constitutional amendment to eliminate the office, something Godlewski campaigned against before she decided to run for the office. Serving as one of three members of the public lands board is the treasurer’s only remaining constitutional duty.
The Associated Press contributed this report.