In addition to the Department of Natural Resources, a second state agency has scrubbed information on global warming from its website...
For years, the Public Service Commission featured material devoted to climate change, including strategies designed to reduce Wisconsin's reliance on coal.
Then, sometime after May 1, the agency eliminated its global warming web page.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discovered the change when reviewing archived web pages of the DNR and the PSC.
The agencies are the most influential in state government on the subject of climate change because of their role in regulating coal-fired power plants. Coal emissions from power plants are the state’s largest sources of carbon emissions.
The issue of controlling greenhouse gases, however, has not been a priority under the Walker administration and both agencies have filed comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency objecting to higher energy costs under the Obama administration’s climate change regulations, known as the Clean Power Plan.
Until at least May 1, the PSC's global warming web page gave visitors a convenient inroad to extensive information on reducing the production of greenhouse gases, including a link to former Gov. Jim Doyle's task force report on global warming, which recommended an array of strategies to reduce greenhouse gases.
The page on the PSC website was eliminated sometime after May 1, according to a review of old PSC web pages on the Wayback Machine, an online archive.
Agency spokeswoman Elise Nelson said the web page on global warming was one of many pages the agency removed as part of a project to update its website.
"The page in question appears to have been recommended for removal in 2014, en masse with 98 other pages, as part of a long-term website cleanup and maintenance effort" by the PSC's information technology officer, Nelson said in an email.
The DNR also has periodically removed information on climate change, including eliminating the Doyle report from its website.
Key recommendations of the report were never implemented under Doyle, a Democrat, who ended his eight-year term in January 2011. Nonetheless, the 239-page report and extensive supporting data represent the state's most comprehensive effort to address climate change and the role the burning of fossil fuels has played in a warming planet.
Al Shea, who was involved in the report as an air regulator for the DNR and later became a top aide to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, said long-term research of climate change is needed to help Wisconsin adapt to a warming climate.
Shea, now retired, said the reality in Wisconsin is that it relies more on coal to generate electricity than most states. In 2015, Wisconsin's coal reliance stood at 55%. Nationally, coal accounted for one-third of the nation's power that year, federal energy data show.
That reliance, he predicted, will slow action on climate issues for years to come.
"Until we have a more diverse energy portfolio in the state, and in the country, we will continue to have this debate about the veracity of climate change," he said, "which just clouds the issue."
The PSC's former global warming web page featured, among other topics, links on the potential for development of wind turbines on the Great Lakes and exploring the potential for injecting carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants in the ground.
Those topics can be still be found as part of past and current regulatory cases, but could be difficult to access by the general public.
As recently as December, DNR officials removed language from a page on the Great Lakes that had previously acknowledged the role humans play in global warming and added new wording saying climate change is a matter of scientific debate.
On Monday, the DNR said it made the change on the page after a northern Wisconsin newspaper asked whether the DNR should be posting information on its web page that stated human activities have played a role in increasing heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
The DNR's actions to remove information related to climate change have drawn criticism from environmental groups and academics, including a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists who this week also criticized the deletions.
The scientists said that "ignoring the facts and this responsibility hobbles the state agency entrusted to manage natural resources and protect the public."
Doyle's 2008 report that was jettisoned from PSC and DNR web pages represented more than a year of work and meetings by a task force representing industry and environmentalists. The project included computer modeling on outcomes of emissions cuts, using forests to sequester carbon dioxide and a study of a carbon tax.
The final report called for a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Another key recommendation: Tripling funding for energy efficiency and a boost in mass transit funding. The recommendations were approved in June 2008 by 26 of 29 members of the task force, including five investor-owned utilities, S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. and Johnson Controls.
Three manufacturers voted against the recommendations: General Motors Corp. (which was in the process of closing its plant in Janesville), New Page Corp. and Ariens Co.
But the measure never received legislative support, despite Democratic control of the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature.
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