A Wisconsin state board made up of elected officials voted 2-1 Tuesday to ban staff members of a small agency from on-the-job discussion or work related to climate change.
Staffers for the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands had already removed a reference to climate change from its website in response to previous complaints by one board member, state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk.
Adamczyk is a Republican who recently sought to dismiss board executive secretary Tia Nelson from her post after learning she served as a co-chairwoman on former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s global warming task force in 2007 and 2008.
Adamczyk said Wednesday that he is bothered by Nelson’s service on the task force because it had nothing to do with the board’s business, which is to manage certain state-owned forest land and help finance local government projects. But he said he also has other problems with her running of the agency.
During the meeting, Nelson said she has done little or no work on climate change since serving on the task force.
The lone Democratic member of the board, Secretary of State Douglas La Follette, said Adamczyk is a “climate change denier” who is out to get Nelson.
Asked if he denies that climate change is happening, Adamczyk said that his views on the topic aren’t important.
The board member who voted against the ban on climate change work said Adamczyk is pursuing an ideological vendetta against Nelson, who is the daughter of Gaylord Nelson, the former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator who is the founder of Earth Day.
“Part of it is he hates environmental people,” La Follette said. “And that includes me.”
Effect on industry
La Follette said the agency should have at least some concern about climate change because foresters are worried about how it is influencing tree growth and other conditions affecting the logging industry. The board owns about 77,000 acres of land, including timber acreage it manages for income that can be used for public projects.
La Follette has served on the board for more than 30 years, including terms when Republicans held the other two seats, and he’s never before seen partisanship as extreme as that demonstrated by Adamczyk.
Jack Voigt, who was a Republican state treasurer from 1995 to 2007, said Adamczyk is meddling in administrative matters. “It’s uncalled for,” Voigt said. “To me it’s becoming political to the point that he wants to control everything.”
Adamczyk and the third current board member, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, were elected to their posts last fall. By law, the board is made up of the attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state.
Schimel voted with La Follette against firing Nelson a few weeks ago. On Wednesday, Schimel said he didn’t object to Nelson’s work on the climate change task force seven years ago because board members at the time appeared to approve of it.
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Schimel said he voted with Adamczyk to ban any further work because he views it as political activity, and because the effects of climate change aren’t connected to the board’s duties.
“It would be irresponsible for me to vote to prospectively permit government employees to engage in political activity while at work,” Schimel said in a statement. “I would have voted the same as to any political activity.”
While campaigning last year for his first term, Schimel promised that one of his first acts would be to join Republican attorneys general in suing to block the EPA’s plan to slow global climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
Doyle’s task force resulted in the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would have required a quarter of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025.
It would have eased restrictions on nuclear energy, cut greenhouse gases, tightened building energy efficiency and set tougher car emission standards. The bill died in the Legislature in 2010.
Nelson declined to comment for this article, saying she didn’t want to say anything that would inflame the situation.
She has directed the agency’s eight other employees for 10 years. Before that, she worked for The Nature Conservancy for 17 years, including a short time directing the Washington-based group’s global climate change initiative.
Adamczyk said his biggest concern with Nelson is that land owned by the board isn’t providing enough income.
Much of the land, granted to the state in the 1800s, can’t be logged because it isn’t wooded or it is surrounded by private land so loggers can’t reach it, but the agency is purchasing acreage to make more of it accessible, according to a recent staff analysis.
Adamczyk said a reference to climate change was removed from the board website after he complained about it. He has also attempted to have names of commissioners and the executive secretary removed from the agency letterhead and to cancel newspaper subscriptions to save money.
La Follette said Adamczyk has barraged Nelson and her staff with requests for reports and information.
“It’s harassment, just pure harassment of the staff,” La Follette said.
Adamczyk campaigned for the treasurer’s office saying he would attempt to eliminate it because most of its duties have been transferred to other state offices.
He said he has demanded a lot of information from Nelson and her staff because he is a new board member and has time to learn about agency operations.