WED AM News: Study finds carbon emissions from corn ethanol higher than from gasoline; State Senate approves series of COVID-19 measures

— A study led by UW-Madison authors found carbon emissions of corn ethanol produced to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard could be 24 percent higher than from the equivalent amount of gasoline. 

“It basically reaffirms what many suspected, that corn ethanol is not a climate-friendly fuel and we need to accelerate the shift toward better renewable fuels, as well as make improvements in efficiency and electrification,” said Tyler Lark, lead study author and a scientist with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. 

Meanwhile, the national Renewable Fuels Association is disputing the results of the study, arguing the authors cherry-picked their data. 

The study results were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, about 15 years after the federal law establishing the Renewable Fuel Standard was put in place. Under the law, fuels have to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to be counted as renewable, a release from the university shows. 

In a 2010 analysis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated corn ethanol emissions to be some 21 percent lower than gasoline. But Lark says the EPA analysis estimated a very small change in domestic land use, which turned out not to be the case. 

Still, he said “no one expected” the changes that were seen, as cropland area in the United States had been declining for the previous 30 years. But over the past decade or so, the study found cropland area expanded while land used for rotating soy and wheat crops was repurposed to produce only corn. 

“The EPA’s original estimates suggested that U.S. land use change would sequester carbon and help improve the carbon footprint of ethanol. But in retrospect, we now know it did just the opposite,” Lark said. “Rather than reduce the carbon intensity of ethanol to 20 percent lower than gasoline, it looks like it actually increases it to that much higher than gasoline.” 

Wisconsin is the ninth-largest ethanol producing state in the country, with nine ethanol plants producing over 500 million gallons each year, according to the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. These plants use about 37 percent of the state’s corn crop. Ethanol production in the state generates $4.2 billion in economic activity, the group says. 

The Wisconsin Corn Growers Association declined to comment on the study results and pointed to the statement released by the Renewable Fuels Association. RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper says the authors “precariously string together a series of worst-case assumptions,” calling the study “completely fictional and erroneous.” 

“The claims in this report simply don’t align with reality and the facts on the ground, and the paper reads more like a fantasy novel than a genuine piece of academic literature,” Cooper said in a statement. 

Along with scientists from UW-Madison, other authors on the study include researchers from the University of California-Davis, Kansas State University and the University of Kentucky. 

See the full study here: 

See the RFA’s response: 

— The state Senate has approved a series of COVID-19 measures drafted in response to vaccine mandates and other measures to combat the pandemic.

The bills would: allow those who quit or are fired rather than get the vaccine to still qualify for unemployment benefits; prohibit requiring proof of vaccination to enter a business or receive government services; and allow a claim of natural immunity in lieu of proof of vaccination or a COVID-19 test.

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, accused Republicans of trying to “coddle an extremist and selfish base” with a “slew of bad bills,” which he said serve to discourage people from getting vaccinated when studies have proven it dramatically reduces the impact of contracting COVID-19 and the changes of dying from it.

“There is no reason for us to spend our energy trying to coddle those who have refused it,” Larson said.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski, one of the co-authors of the bills, countered that other countries recognize natural immunity and forcing people to get an experimental vaccine is un-American.

“Natural immunity is what’s been saving generations for years,” the Irma Republican said.

AB 299 would ban businesses from requiring patrons to show proof of vaccine to enter or receive services. Some businesses in the state have begun requiring patrons to show their vaccination card or a copy of it before entering. The bill also would ban the state from requiring similar proof before providing services.

AB 675 would require employees to accept documentation of natural immunity in lieu of any vaccination or testing requirement. The bill would allow chiropractors and pharmacists, along with other health professionals, to sign documentation of a positive COVID-19 or antibody test. It also would allow workers or prospective employees to provide a notarized letter stating to the best of their knowledge they have recovered from COVID-19.

Both bills passed 20-12 along party lines and now head to the guv’s desk.

Under current law, those who quit their jobs generally aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance. Also, those who are fired because of misconduct or substantial fault also generally can’t qualify for unemployment. SB 547 would create an exemption for those who quit or are fired over a COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

The Senate also signed off on SB 721, which would allow those required by their employer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to claim worker’s compensation if they could show they were sickened by it.

Both bills passed 20-12 and now head to the Assembly.

— The Senate also approved 19-13 SB 573, which would make clear that private businesses can have charging stations for electric vehicles and charge a fee without becoming a public utility. 

The amended version of the bill would bar municipalities from being sole owners of a charging station on public property. They would have to partner with a third party. GOP Sen. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, joined Dems in opposing the bill, which now heads to the Assembly.

And the Senate approved 20-12 SB 365 to focus the state’s broadband grant program on “unserved” areas rather than those that are “underserved.”

Current law defines underserved as areas with less than two broadband service providers. The program awards grants to applicants to build broadband infrastructure in those areas.

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, says the bill he authored is “one more step to modernize our approach and focus our efforts to reach communities that do not have broadband.” 

The bill, which would change the purpose of the program to building infrastructure in unserved areas, now heads to the Assembly. It would also prioritize fiber projects and create a challenge process for internet service providers aimed at preventing state investment in projects already getting “significant” federal funding, according to a release. 

“Our small, local telecommunications companies, as well as larger providers throughout the state, are working hard to reach customers and we must support this work so that our people will be connected efficiently and effectively, as soon as possible,” Marklein said in the release. 

See more at 

— Renewable energy advocates are applauding the state Senate for approving a bill that would allow more projects to qualify for the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy program.

The PACE program is a financing tool that certain property owners in the state can use to help fund energy efficiency and renewable energy projects such as HVAC upgrades, LED lighting, rooftop solar installations and more. Under the bill passed by the Senate yesterday, eligible projects would include electric vehicle infrastructure, stormwater control measures and

energy reliability improvements. 

“We are excited to have bipartisan, unanimous support for this clean energy financing option which will help Wisconsin businesses shift to clean energy and drive economic investment,” RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Heather Allen said in a release. 

She thanked Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, for introducing the legislation. 

Among other changes, the bill would also remove a requirement related to water and energy cost savings exceeding the cost of investment for larger projects, instead requiring owners to get a third-party assessment on projected energy and water cost savings or an assessment of renewable energy production and associated benefits. And the owner would have to provide some verification that the project was properly installed and maintained, or that it was operational at the time of the loan or agreement. 

The bill now goes to the state Assembly for approval. 

See more on the bill: 

See the release: 

— State Insurance Commissioner Nathan Houdek has announced OCI’s Consumer Affairs division recovered over $4.7 million last year for consumers that filed complaints with the agency. 

Complaints cover a wide range of issues including claims handling, marketing and sales, underwriting and policyholder service across all types of insurance. 

“Every year thousands of Wisconsinites file complaints with our office and a dedicated team of examiners and attorneys work to resolve these complaints to the best of our ability,” Houdek said in the release. “Protecting consumers is central to everything we do at OCI.”

In 2020, OCI recovered just under $4 million. That number was $8.1 million in 2019, $3.9 million in 2018, $4.3 million in 2017 and $4.5 million in 2016. 

See the release: 

Listen to a recent podcast with Houdek: 

— A new Wisconsin Policy Forum report offers a number of suggestions for how Milwaukee County’s 11 municipal health departments can coordinate services to better meet public health needs. 

The report describes how the county government, municipal health departments, academic organizations, health systems and other businesses formed the Unified Emergency Operations Center early in the pandemic. Report authors note this helped the county respond to COVID-19 but also “raised questions about the need for ongoing coordination and potential structural change” in the future. 

WPF found providing basic health services like flu shots, maternal and infant health programs, restaurant inspections and investigations of communicable disease “continue to be the strong suit” of the suburban health departments. 

But the report also points to challenges related to going beyond these services, noting some public health officers lack staffing capacity to do so. Meanwhile, others were found to “show little interest” in advancing public health efforts in line with the “Public Health 3.0” model, which involves engaging multiple sectors and community partners, as well as addressing the social determinants of health. 

In many of the county’s cities and villages, the report shows the existing service model “essentially is delivering the same types of services” that were delivered two decades ago. 

“That this is the case despite substantial progression in the thinking and recommendations of federal public health agencies, the Wisconsin DHS, and experts with regard to what local health agency services should look like is worthy of community-wide review and deliberation,” report authors wrote. 

Some of the policy recommendations offered in the report include: creating a county-level public health advisory council to help organize public health responses; establishing a formal role for the county government in supporting municipal public health entities; and sharing staff and back office support such as data collection and analysis. 

The most comprehensive suggestion is for the county to consider consolidating one or more health departments, which WPF says could help address some of the issues identified in the report. Report authors argue this approach would recognize that “effective public health responses to challenges like communicable diseases and opioid abuse transcend municipal boundaries and demand a more regional response.” 

Along with improving the effectiveness of certain initiatives by expanding the area in which they’re delivered, the report says consolidation could also improve grant opportunities, as fewer entities would be competing for the same pool of state and federal resources. 

Read the full report here: 

— DATCP has announced it will be taking applications for the 2022 Specialty Crop Block Grants program through March 24. 

Eligible projects include those aimed at boosting competitiveness of specialty crop industries through research, education or market development. Funded projects can get grants for up to three years, typically running from $10,000 to $100,000. The funding can be used for consultants, materials, supplies and staff compensation. 

The agency is calling for applications from nonprofits, producers organizations, government agencies, universities and other agriculture groups. Projects selected for funding will be included in the state’s proposal, which is submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval. 

See more details here: 


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– Rettler re-elected president of FarmFirst Dairy Co-op Board

– Okray elected as WPVGA Board president


– Eau Claire posts 2nd best year for construction

– AGC, Mortenson: Materials prices rise again in US, Milwaukee 

– First look at Milwaukee Kinn Guesthouse hotel set to open downtown

– Oak Creek-based Kuehne Company acquired by St. Louis construction company


– Another record year for state ag exports in 2021

– Wisconsin sets record high for agricultural exports in 2021

– GMC may add crime to priorities that include racial equity, economic development


– MMSD to consult with medical advisers as PHMDC mask mandate expires

– Short-term aid: School districts figuring out how to spend COVID relief dollars


– Even without registration stations, bars and restaurants remain core to sturgeon culture


– Wisconsin’s Group Insurance Board to review the benefits and cost of bariatric surgery for state workers


– Jrue and Lauren Holiday team up with Black crowdfunding site to back Milwaukee businesses


– Port Washington-based Molded Dimensions acquires GlobalTech Plastics


– Panel advances bill to offer tax breaks for apprenticeship tuition


– Chris Mambu Rasch named executive director of Building Advantage


– Natural Resources Board to take up regulation of PFAS

– A key vote on state standards for PFAS is coming up. Here’s what you need to know.


– Activist investor skewers Kohl’s board that includes top Milwaukee execs. Here’s who the fight is about.

– Kohl’s to bring Sephora shops to eight more locations in southeastern Wisconsin this year


– Milwaukee Bucks’ online wagering partnership was years in the making


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