WisBusiness: WMC expects better treatment under new AG Van Hollen

By Brian E. Clark

Badger State businesses and industries should get a fairer shake under incoming attorney general J.B. Van Hollen than they did from the outgoing Peg Lautenschlager, a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) official
said Wednesday.

WMC backed Van Hollen in the recent attorney general’s race.

Scott Manley, WMC’s director of environmental policy, said he expects fewer “frivolous” lawsuits and more focus on criminal activity and less “politically motivated publicity stunt” legal action.

But that doesn’t mean lawsuits are going to diminish, attorney Todd Palmer of Dewitt, Ross & Stevens told a gathering of about 75 who attended the WMC’s Clean Air Act Update 2006 conference in Waukesha.

Palmer said businesses should expect more litigation in coming years, thanks in large part from increasing activism by environmental
groups. “The real action will be NGOs (non-governmental organizations” based in Madison that are filing suits around the Midwest.

The Joyce Foundation recently gave Clean Wisconsin $500,000 to oppose conventional coal plants proposed for Wisconsin and promote alternatives, including coal gasification.

But Palmer warned, “Soon they will be running out of coal-fired power plants to sue. Then they will go after non-utilities.”

Palmer also said the Clean Air Act allows individual citizens to sue corporations for alleged violations.

“Even if you are still on the right side of the act’s compliance rules, you may still face nuisance suits,” he said.

And he said publicly traded companies should expect increased environmental activism from shareholders. Last year, he noted, 70 of 200
shareholder proxy proposals dealt with environmental and social issues.
But that will surely increase, he said.

Manley, of the WMC, said not all the news was bad and he said the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was slowly undergoing a culture
change that is more receptive to business and job creation.

But change will take time, he said, and not every division within the DNR is receptive to altering the status quo.

In other comments, Manley efforts by some in Wisconsin to have tougher air quality rules than federal guidelines would run counter to the will of previous Wisconsin governors and legislatures.

It also would cause utility rates to increase and turn the Badger State
into something of an island, surrounded by other states will lower energy
costs, he argued.

“Wisconsin electric rates are already higher than many Midwest states and
the proposed clean air rule would only worsen the problem,” he said.

“We’d stick out like a sore thumb and it would have no public health
benefit,” he alleged.