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Well pollution

The Jan. 2 web article posted by the Wisconsin State Journal reads: “Hazardous drinking water found in 42% of southwest Wisconsin wells.” How did such a thing happen? The short answer: a misguided and dangerous dependence on money by a number of elected office-holders.

Somehow, our previous governor and Legislature decided that, while 15 eastern Wisconsin counties needed their groundwater protected from manure, southwestern Wisconsin did not. We can be very grateful to the private organization Clean Wisconsin for identifying the alarming status of well water in the southwest part of the state.

In his inaugural address eight years ago, Scott Walker declared: “Wisconsin is open for business.” State governments should promote opportunity by building infrastructure and developing a well-educated, highly skilled work force. Instead, Walker’s slogan was a clear signal to potential campaign contributors: State government is ready to abandon its role of protecting our environment. It’s no accident that the work of our Department of Natural Resources has been clamped down upon for the last eight years.

Sadly, the basic problem goes way beyond Wisconsin and groundwater contamination. The worldwide scientific community is telling us that carbon emissions-driven climate change is already producing harm, with the tipping point for massive damage approaching quickly.

Every officeholder should be required to read, and every voter encouraged to read, the eight-page summary findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Issued the day after Thanksgiving, it represents four years of work by 1,000 individuals, including 300 of America’s leading scientists.

The report tells us that, barring a dramatic turn, we can expect increases in droughts, downpours, and floods, and an increase in tick and pest-transmitted illness: dengue fever, West Nile, Zika, and Lyme diseases. It also tells us to expect, barring changes, deteriorating surface-water quality and lowered agricultural productivity. Finally, it warns us to anticipate climate change-driven substantial damage to the U.S. economy this century, including “annual losses in some economic sectors … projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.”

Clearly, the inactivity and/or promotion of destructive policies by many of our elected leaders is subjecting us to enormous economic and environmental risk.

President Trump is determined, despite dire scientific warnings, to pursue an aggressive policy of encouraging increased emissions from smoke stacks and tailpipes. It’s as if a physician learned that a patient had lung cancer, and prescribed an increase in cigarette use.

The declared mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is “to protect human health and the environment. EPA works to ensure that Americans have clean air, land, and water, [and to ensure that] national efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information.” Over the last two years, the EPA’s mission has been completely subverted by presidential appointments.

EPA leadership during the Trump years has adopted a pro-pollution agenda. Leading this horrific campaign was former EPA Director Scott Pruitt, who described himself on his Oklahoma governmental website as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Prior to being EPA director, Pruitt filed multiple lawsuits attacking the EPA’s work.

Since July 5 Trump has left the EPA director position vacant. The agency is currently headed by Acting Administrator Andrew Wheelan. Wheelan spent eight years lobbying for increased fossil fuel use. From one company alone, Wheelan’s firm annually received $300,000 or more to promote the use of coal.

Money being poured into elections by the fossil fuel industry protects polluters. Koch Industries alone, with $110 billion in estimated annual net revenue and oil its largest focus, set aside up to $400 million for the November 2018 mid-term elections, supporting candidates advocating that business be unregulated by government. Charles Koch has declared a goal of having the Koch brothers’ policy advocacy and political contributions grow 10-fold in the coming years.

The pro-pollution forces are winning, decisively. We must fight back, because the stakes are enormous. In Wisconsin, we must demand that our new governor and Legislature implement measures to stop well contamination. In the state and around the nation, the needs of our planet have to overcome the power of dark money to influence elections.

Nationally, we need to support the work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. They advocate tirelessly for a market-friendly, carbon fee and dividend approach to putting a price on carbon emissions. This will facilitate an economically viable and fair way to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable forms of clean energy.

We do not want the 21st century to be the era of greed-driven destruction of our planet.

Ron Malzer of La Crosse is a retired psychologist, and a member of Citizens' Climate Lobby.

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