Yesterday, a Midwest-based environmental advocacy group filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission. That’s the agency in charge of regulating public utilities.
The lawsuit challenges the commission’s approval of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission line.
The Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission energy line would run through southwest Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa.
Yesterday, two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Public Service Commission’s approval of the energy line. The lawsuit adds to the ongoing debate surrounding the transmission line.
Supporters of the project say that it would lower energy costs and would increase transmission of energy from renewable resources. But George Meyer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, one of the two environmental advocacy groups who filed the suit, says that the energy isn’t worth the environmental costs.
“The line is going to run about 100 miles through what’s known as the Driftless Area, or all Southwest Wisconsin,” says Meyer. “It’s an area that has tremendous natural resources. There’s going to be wetlands and streams crossed, our forests divided in two and impact on natural scenic beauty of the area. And that’s an important part of the tourism industry that is the second major economic factor in southwest Wisconsin.”
Meyer also says he’s concerned that the line will pass through private property.
In the lawsuit filed yesterday, the environmental groups take issue with the mechanics of the Public Service Commission’s vote to approve the project. The suit alleges that two members of the Public Service Commission should have recused themselves.
Those members of the Public Service Commission are Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq and Commissioner Mike Huebsch.
Valcq formerly worked as an attorney for the Wisconsin Electric Power Company, a state utility, and Huebsch was an advisor to the Midwest Electric Grid Operator.
According to the lawsuit, Valcq and Huebsch should have recused themselves due to these conflicts of interest.
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, along with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, another environmental advocacy group, filed a motion to ask for the recusal of Valcq and Huebsch earlier this year.
In September, the Public Service Commission dismissed that motion. They found that the option was not properly brought before the Commission and lacked a legitimate basis for recusal.
Howard Learner, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says that if the lawsuit goes through, then the decision to allow the line’s construction would be placed before a different Commission.
“In these sorts of proceedings, having a fair and impartial decision maker is absolutely vital to constitutional due process and what most of us think is a fair decision-making process,” says Learner. “Unfortunately in this case, with due respect to the commission, two of the commissioners had conflicts of interest or otherwise situations created an appearance of bias or an appearance of a lack of impartiality. As a practical matter, we simply believe they should not have been hearing this case.”
Learner also says at least one more lawsuit will be filed this week.
American Transmission Company, a company helping construction the transmission line, declined to comment.
The transmission line is projected to be in use by 2023, but these lawsuits could delay that timeline.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the names George Meyer and Howard Learner.