The state treasurer in Wisconsin declined to explain his views about climate change a day after leading the effort to ban a small state agency from talking about rising temperatures.
The ban approved Tuesday sharply divided elected officials overseeing the obscure Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, prompting the only Democrat on the three-person panel to say it symbolizes "a very dangerous trend" in state politics.
The restriction, approved by a 2-1 vote, prevents 10 staff members at the BCPL from communicating about climate change, including about its potential impacts on 77,000 acres of state timberland. The board uses the income from it for public education projects.
Employees are also required to notify the board's three elected commissioners before answering email inquiries about global warming, and a reference on the board's website to the effects of climbing temperatures on invasive forest species was recently deleted.
State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a Republican elected last November, said in an interview that he introduced the ban to keep state employees on task. He disputed allegations by political opponents who say his effort is driven by ideological disagreements about man-made climate change.
Adamczyk declined to say whether climate change is real or if greenhouse gases from human activity like driving cars are causing temperatures to rise.
"Honestly, I don't even care to discuss it," he said when asked for his views. "As a state treasurer, I have no role in [climate policy] whatsoever. It's nothing to do with my job. I don't want to discuss merits ... of the topic."
Doug La Follette, the Democratic secretary of state and a member of the land board, said the ban politicizes climate science. He was the only board member to vote against the measure. State Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, supported Adamczyk's motion.
"He's a tea party Republican who denies climate change exists," La Follette said of Adamczyk in an interview.
The board is an office that rarely attracts attention. The agency oversees a trust fund with about $1 billion in assets. It provides loans to Wisconsin communities for economic development and infrastructure projects, like upgrades to wastewater treatment systems. It then uses the revenue it raises through interest rates to improve school libraries. The board also raises money by selling timber from its public land; that money goes to the University of Wisconsin system.
Although the agency has a low profile, its executive secretary doesn't. Tia Nelson is the daughter of Gaylord Nelson, a former Democratic governor and U.S. senator who founded Earth Day.
Adamczyk said he imposed the ban based on Nelson's previous work on climate change. In 2007, former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, appointed her as co-chair of the state's Task Force on Global Warming, which submitted a report in 2008 recommending that the state adopt emission reduction targets, energy efficiency standards and a cap-and-trade program. It was never acted on.
Adamczyk also focused on Nelson's trip to Washington, D.C., in 2009 to testify before Congress in support of a federal cap-and-trade program, which Nelson said would have dovetailed with the state's efforts.
"I don't understand why a person that works for a small Wisconsin agency that deals with [trust] money would fly out on state time ... to testify on a hyperpartisan bill," Adamczyk said, calling the trip "crazy."
Nelson declined to comment, but during the meeting Tuesday, she said her appointment by the governor did not reduce the amount of work she did at BCPL, according to an audio recording of the meeting. Nelson also said she hasn't worked on climate change since submitting the report in 2008 and testifying before Congress in 2009.
Even Adamczyk said it's "almost silly" that the board voted on Nelson's actions from six years ago, under a different governor. But he said "it's obviously her passion," noting that Nelson worked on climate issues for more than 15 years at the Nature Conservancy in D.C.
Gov. Walker steers clear—mostly
About a month ago, Adamczyk accused Nelson of "time theft" because of her actions five and six years ago and offered a resolution to fire her, La Follette said. The measure failed when Schimel joined La Follette to oppose it.
"For him to bring his vendetta into the land board activity was just uncalled for and absurd," said La Follette, who's served on the board for nearly 30 years, a period he described as nonpartisan. "For this climate denial absurdity to rear its ugly head within the board is a real shame."
La Follette and NextGen Climate, a Democratic-allied group, describe the Wisconsin ban as reminiscent of the controversy in Florida, where agency staff are compelled to avoid using the term "climate change" under an unwritten rule in Gov. Rick Scott's administration.
Adamczyk said he hasn't spoken with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, about climate change and the board. A Walker spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said the governor is not involved with the board.
"With that said, generally, Governor Walker does not think it is unreasonable to enact policies requiring board staff to focus on board-related activities," Patrick said in an email.
Last year, Adamczyk ran an offbeat political campaign. His biggest promise is to eliminate his own position, saying the treasurer's office is a waste of money. Most of its responsibilities had been transferred to other agencies, and Adamczyk has said his job amounts to about two 15-minute phone calls a month to participate in land board meetings.
After taking over in January, Adamczyk fired two staff members and ushered another out. Now it's just him and an intern occupying the treasurer's office in the Capitol basement, he said. The land board is also a target of his fiscal discipline. He has criticized Nelson for subscribing to The New York Times and sought to have her name removed from official letterhead.
"My point isn't to discuss the merits of global warming," Adamczyk said when asked again about his views on climate change. "I'm not going into the policy of it. I'm just saying it has nothing to do with our organization."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500