THU AM News: Talking Trade with Samantha Vortherms, assistant professor of political science at UC Irvine; Xcel Energy plan approved by regulators

— The latest episode of “Talking Trade” features a conversation with Samantha Vortherms, an assistant professor of political science at University of California- Irvine. 

Vortherms, a 2017 graduate of UW-Madison, discusses trade relations between the United States and China with the hosts — M.E. Dey & Co. President Sandi Siegel and UW-Madison Prof. Ian Coxhead. She highlights recent research on how trade wars impact multinational firms operating in China. 

“Tariffs do increase exits, but really it’s this broad political souring that’s pushing firms out,” she said. “And not just U.S. firms, but firms much more broadly.” 

She found that large firms, and those that entered China about 20 years ago, were the least likely to leave the country amid the “souring” environment. Companies that are more entrenched in China with a stronger base of operations were “much less likely” to leave than other businesses. 

“We really think that firm size, so how much capital they have, and their age — how long they’ve been there — are proxies for how well integrated they are, maybe the relationships that they develop locally that can kind of buffer,” she said. “Instead of shutting down to reduce costs, they then pass on the costs to consumers or somewhere else down the supply chain.” 

Vortherms will join U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and Professor Enrique Dussel Peters of the National Autonomous University in Mexico for a virtual luncheon Feb. 17. The event will explore the decoupling of the United States and China’s trade relationship, as well as challenges and opportunities for the Midwest. 

Watch the latest “Talking Trade” episode here: 

Register for the Feb. 17 luncheon here: 

— Xcel Energy has announced approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for its plan to cut carbon emissions from electricity provided in the Upper Midwest by over 85 percent by 2030. 

That includes customers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Michigan. 

The Minneapolis-based company’s Upper Midwest Energy Plan includes several elements: retiring all of its coal plants in the region by 2030; building new wind and solar energy infrastructure by 2032; extending operation of its Monticello nuclear energy facility; expanding customer energy efficiency programs; and developing new transmission lines. 

“This decision means more than 80 percent of our customers’ electricity will be carbon free by the end of the decade and demonstrates the significant strides we’re making to deliver a clean energy future,” said Bob Frenzel, company chairman, president and CEO. 

Xcel Energy has set a goal of reaching 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. 

Several of Wisconsin’s other major utilities have also set out goals for reducing carbon emissions over a similar timeline. 

WEC Energy Group, the parent company of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, has a goal of reducing carbon emissions from electricity generation by 50 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by the end of 2030, compared to 2005 levels. And the company is planning to have a net-zero electric generation fleet by 2050. 

Madison Gas & Electric has also set a goal of reaching net-zero carbon electricity by 2050. 

Meanwhile, Alliant Energy aims to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 2050 and eliminate coal from its generation fleet by 2040. 

See the release: 

— Public Service Commission Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq stressed affordability during a meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access. 

“Infrastructure is still a really important part of solving the digital divide in Wisconsin,” she said yesterday. “We know that we still have nearly 700,000 people in the state of Wisconsin that don’t have broadband access. But we also know that we have about 650,000 friends and neighbors who can’t afford it.” 

She said “it’s not enough” to be focused on high-speed internet infrastructure alone. 

“We need to ensure that people understand how to use it, and how to use it effectively,” she said. “Everybody on this call knows that you have to be proficient in digital literacy skills in order to participate in everyday life.” 

She said the PSC has been hearing more about the need for technical assistance at the local level and will be exploring how to best support communities as part of this effort. Valcq said the challenge of expanding broadband access isn’t a rural versus urban issue, or an outstate issue only. 

“This is making sure that our Wisconsin residents have the infrastructure, the affordable infrastructure, and the access to adoption tools that they need to be able to live and work wherever they decide that they’re going to live in this great state,” she said. 

See more on the task force’s work: 

— In line with national trends, the rate of children in Wisconsin being vaccinated against COVID-19 has slowed following a rush after initial availability.

Data provided by the state Department of Health Services show vaccination of children aged 5-11 ramped up quickly in November 2021, with over 30,000 vaccination series initiated in a single week. That number has declined since then, reaching 1,596 in the week starting Jan. 30, the latest time frame covered in the figures provided. 

A similar trend exists for children aged 12-15, with a peak in May 2021 for vaccination series being started. That number also exceeded 30,000 in a single week, but has since decreased to just 506 in the first week of February. Vaccinations for those aged 16-17 have seen a similar but less dramatic variation. The number of vaccination series being initiated for this age range peaked around 9,000 in April 2021 and has since fallen to 121. 

Elizabeth Goodsitt, a communications specialist for DHS, notes this trend is not unique to Wisconsin. 

“Other states are also experiencing a bit of a slowdown in vaccinating this age group,” she said in an email. “DHS is aware of and continuously monitoring vaccination gaps in an effort to best target efforts. We are working with agencies and stakeholder groups to promote vaccine confidence through trusted messengers in local spaces.” 

DHS has been hosting community-based vaccination clinics and providing vaccination resources to schools around the state. Goodsitt said schools “play an important role” in the vaccination effort, due to their familiarity and ease of access for parents and their kids. 

She also highlighted the “misconception that COVID-19 is mild in children” and that they don’t need to be vaccinated. 

“Children infected with SARS-CoV-2 can develop serious complications,” she said. “Parents need to be reassured that vaccines are safe and effective in children, and that this is a safer way to build protection than getting sick with COVID-19.” 

She said health misinformation in the state is a growing problem. DHS has been developing relationships with community organizations, faith groups, local health care providers and others in hopes of combating it. 

“These are the ‘boots on the ground,’ so to speak, who are able to go out into our Wisconsin communities and can communicate with folks one-to-one,” she said. “No conversation is too small, and we will continue to push back on misinformation in any way we can.” 

The DHS site shows 25.7 percent of children aged 5-11 in Wisconsin have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 21.3 percent have completed the vaccination series. For those aged 12-17, those numbers are 59.7 percent and 55.5 percent, respectively. 

On a statewide basis, 63.5 percent of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose and 59.7 percent have completed the vaccine series. 

See the latest vaccination figures here: 

— UW Health has announced providers, staff, students and volunteers will be required to get a COVID-19 booster by May 2. 

The health system says it received a “very positive response” to its previous vaccine requirement, announced in August 2021, with “only a handful” of employees choosing not to comply. About 96 percent of UW Health staff are currently vaccinated, a release shows. 

UW Health says those who are eligible but don’t get the booster by May 2 could be fired. To be eligible, five months must have passed since the last dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two months since the dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The release notes those with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs can file for an exemption to the new requirement. 

“Our staff have been incredibly supportive of vaccination efforts in our system, our community and our state,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer for UW Health. “They see first-hand how important it is to get a booster as we deal with the omicron surge.”

See the release: 

— Hospitals in the state are backing legislation from Republican lawmakers that would increase penalties for battery to health care providers or their families. 

In written testimony submitted to the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Wisconsin Hospital Association Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk noted threats and violence toward health care workers have become more frequent over the past decade. 

“Increasing threats to our health care worker’s safety, increased burnout, and increasing workforce shortages make it imperative to provide every strategy possible to turn the tide,” she wrote in the memo. 

The bill would make it a class H felony to commit battery against or threaten a health care provider or staff member or any of their family members if the battery or threats leveled against these people are related to their work. Under current law, battery is a class A misdemeanor, although battery against a nurse, EMT or emergency department worker is considered a class H felony. 

“Realizing the goal of preventing threats of physical violence through this legislation is important to protecting the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of our health care workforce,” Zenk wrote.

The state’s lobbying website shows 21 organizations have registered in support of the bill, including a number of hospitals, health systems and industry associations. The site shows no groups or individuals registered in opposition. 

See more on the bill: 

— The Assembly Committee on Small Business Development voted 10-4 along party lines to sign off on a bill that would limit the governor’s emergency powers.

Under AB 912, a guv couldn’t declare a business “essential” or “nonessential” during emergencies. That means any order impacting businesses would have to apply to all of them equally.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers issued a stay-at-home order that required nonessential businesses to close.

See the proposal:

— Gage Marine Corporation will be required to pay a $25,000 penalty for allegedly violating state law related to underground petroleum storage tanks. 

The alleged violations occurred at the company’s marina fueling site in Walworth County, according to a release from the state Department of Justice. It shows the company’s underground storage tank was found in January 2019 to contain excess water, suggesting it could be leaking gasoline into the environment. 

Gage Marine allegedly didn’t try to figure out the cause of the excess water until June of that year, when the tank failed two leak detection tests. DOJ says records show about 235 gallons of gasoline were missing from the tank. The next month, Gage Marine conducted an internal inspection on the tank, finding it was leaking gasoline through a hole. 

But the company allegedly didn’t remove the tank or attempt to clean the contamination until December 2019, when the tank was removed from the site. 

“If an underground tank might be leaking, actions must be taken to stop gasoline from being discharged into the environment,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement. “Underground storage tank owners and operators must pay attention to, and act upon, the information they are receiving from tank monitors and inspections.”

Walworth County Circuit Court Judge David M. Reddy signed the Order for Judgment earlier this week, the release shows. 

See more details: 

— The Compeer Financial Board of Directors will begin a succession and transition plan after announcing President and CEO Rod Hebrink will be retiring in January 2023. 

The Farm Credit cooperative, based in Sun Prairie, reported $25.4 billion in assets in 2021, marking 7.1 percent growth over the year. Board Chair Dave Peters says the co-op is in “an incredibly strong position” due to Hebrink’s leadership. 

In a release, Hebrink says Compeer Financial is “well positioned” for a transition in leadership. 

“Our team is poised to ensure Compeer continues to partner with and support our clients and the communities we serve well into the future,” he said. 

The board says it will soon begin to search for candidates to fill the position. 

See the release: 


# Legalizing marijuana gaining momentum in Wisconsin

# Wausau finds all city wells contain elevated PFAS levels, will study reduction methods

# UW Health to require COVID-19 boosters for all providers and staff



– Josh Meissner to fill his father’s term on Edge Dairy Co-op Board


– Payne & Dolan has $19.8M low bid for I-43 work


– Wisconsin rent assistance providers say renters are still struggling. That could be putting a strain on relationships with landlords.


– Wausau municipal water wells test above standards for ‘forever chemicals’


– The Buzz: Downtown Appleton restaurant and bar closes


– Milwaukee County Covid-19 percent positivity falls to substantial category

– Milwaukee mask mandate likely to remain in effect until March 1, key alderwoman says

– Oral surgeon opens practice in Walker’s Point

– Local COVID testing demand, percent positives down in La Crosse


– American Family Insurance to raise its minimum pay to $23 per hour


– Bill would establish scholarship money for CDL training

– Urban League to expand training for truckers and solar installers


– Dick Leinenkugel stepping down as head of the brewery at year’s end


– Next generation of Harley-Davidson’s electric LiveWire will be smaller


– Positive outlook for agriculture at state Capitol

– 2 medical marijuana proposals surface in Wisconsin


– Kenosha is the latest in a series of developments by Amazon

– Downtown Madison neighborhoods push for more affordable housing

– Brewery, beer garden, dog park, food truck park planned at former Pereles Bros. property


– Kohl’s remains a cornerstone of retail in small Wisconsin cities


– Here’s how attendance at Lambeau Field shaped up against rest of NFL’s stadiums

– Eau Claire’s Loomis leads Americans, takes 15th at 1st Nordic combined event of Beijing Olympics


– Fiserv reports 2021 growth fueled by merchant acceptance


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