By Dave Best
Can the State of Wisconsin sell off its public utilities to its corporate donors for pennies on the dollar without any oversight by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission?
If new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has his way and Senate Bill 11 is passed in its entirety, two of Walker’s largest donors, oil billionaires David and Charles Koch (“the Koch Brothers”), could be handed free reign on Wisconsin public utilities. The media has focused on the protests surrounding stripping bargaining rights from most state workers, but handing over Wisconsin’s utilities to one of our nation’s largest polluters could also have a major impact.
Based on a legal loophole in the middle of Wisconsin Senate Bill 11, according to Forbes, the State of Wisconsin can sell or contract out management of state-owned heating, cooling and power plants without seeking bids.
If this law passes, the state can sell off utilities without any bidding or review process, all for “the public good.” The Wisconsin Public Service Commission serves utility customers to insure adequate and reasonably priced service is provided. Utilities cannot change rates or build large power plants or major transmission lines without the approval of the PSC.
Passage of WI Senate Bill 11, however, would keep the PSC on the sidelines for sale of these public utilities. Conspiracy theorists are calling “pay for play” over fear that the Koch Brothers’ donations to help elect Walker back in November will yield them a portfolio of Wisconsin utilities on the cheap.
The Koch Brothers own Koch Industries, an energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Kansas that owns a wealth of companies including Georgia Pacific and Koch Pipeline. Personally, Charles and David Koch are each tied for fifth place on Forbes annual list for the 400 Richest Americans ($21.5 billion each).
Wonder about Koch Industries environmental record? “Koch Industries is one of the biggest polluters in America, so it’s not surprising that they’ve spent millions blocking measures to protect our air and water,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “The Kochs have also served as one of the biggest obstacles to our transition to a clean energy economy.”
Wisconsin has a Republican dominated state legislature and although the bill has passed the Assembly, all 14 Wisconsin Democratic State Senators have fled the state to prevent a vote by the Republican majority. Without progress, Governor Walker now threatens to issue layoff notices to 1,000 state workers.
Now seems to be a great time for Wisconsin to kick its “Koch habit.” Otherwise we risk thousands of Wisconsinites losing their jobs, the ability of workers to bargain be cut, public utilities get donated to the governor’s donors, renewable energy construction be halted and clean air rights be trampled.