News of the Day

Supreme Court to Hear Case Challenging the Scope of EPA Authority to Combat Global Warming

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Monday in a case that could limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate climate change.  At issue in the case is the extent to which the agency can pursue climate regulations that have broad impacts on areas such as the power sector.

Two coal companies, as well as a group of states led by West Virginia and North Dakota, are challenging a lower court ruling that tossed a Trump-era rule governing power plants.

That Trump rule loosened regulations surrounding climate change when compared to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP), which sought to reduce releases of greenhouse gases through improved efficiency measures, as well as the adoption of more natural gas and renewable energy, as opposed to coal.

The Supreme Court stayed that plan, preventing it from taking effect, in 2016. And the Trump administration replaced it with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which still sought efficiency improvements, but excluded the switch to cleaner fuels.

But as the Biden administration is working on its own regulations for power plants, the states and coal companies are seeking to limit its authority to do so.

They have argued that a key provision in the Clean Air Act only allows the EPA to regulate the pollution sources themselves, rather than setting broader standards that could change the makeup of the country’s power supply.

“They have the ability to regulate a source, and so for instance that could be the coal fired power plant, and that could be for heat efficiencies or items within the power plant,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told The Hill in an interview. But, he added, they can’t “go so far afield” and create a system that could “impact consumer demand or force rewrites of the power grid.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Urges FTC to Create Robust Rule Outlawing Impersonation Scams

Attorney General Josh Kaul, as part of a bipartisan coalition of 49 attorneys general, has called on the Federal Trade Commission to adopt a national rule to target impersonation scams.

Attorneys general serve as the front-line defense against impersonation scams, seeing first-hand the pervasive problem these acts create for consumers, small businesses, and charities in their states. “It’s encouraging that the FTC is taking this issue up,” said AG Kaul. “Imposter
scams are a leading source of consumer fraud around the country, and FTC rules would help efforts to hold scammers accountable.”

As illustrated in the letter, impersonation scams take on many forms:

Impersonation of government entities: Fraudsters claim to be from or affiliated with a government agency to persuade victims of the urgency to provide payment to obtain licensing or certificates in document preparation or regulatory compliance scams.

Business impersonation: These are scams in which fraudsters claim to be working directly for an actual business or as a third party endorsed by the business. Common examples include tech scams in which the imposters claim they are contacting the victim on behalf of companies such as Microsoft or Apple to assist with a ransomware or technology issue.

Person-to-person deceptions: Grandparent scams, romance scams and others use personal information to make a connection with victims. Whether claiming a grandchild is in urgent need of money or creating a fake profile to gain the trust of someone on a social media or dating site, these impersonation scams account for thousands of complaints to attorneys general each year.

“There is a pressing need for FTC rulemaking to address the scourge of impersonation scams impacting consumers across the United States,” the letter states. “A national rule that encompasses and outlaws such commonly experienced scams discussed [in our letter] would assist Attorneys General and their partners in reducing consumer harm, maximizing consumer benefits, and holding bad actors to account.”


Report: Amount of Wisconsin Land Being Farmed Declines in 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service found the total amount of land in Wisconsin farms was 14.2 million acres last year. That’s 100,000 acres fewer, or a less than 1 percent decline, from 2020, but it’s the first decrease in the amount of land in farms since 2017.

Heather Schlesser is an agriculture educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension in Marathon County. She said the state has seen many producers transition out of dairy farming, which requires a lot of land for growing feed.

“They were transitioning out of dairy, making that decision to retire because they’re getting older. Or maybe they’re still younger, but they’re switching into beef production,” Schlesser said. “You can only do that for so long before you’re like, ‘You know what, I really don’t need this land. I don’t want to deal with the renters anymore. There’s no one new coming on the farm.’ And then they’re just deciding to sell it off.”

Some land is sold to other producers, especially the largest farms in the state. The amount of land farmed by producers earning at or above $500,000 annually grew by almost 4 percent from 2020 to 2021.

But for farms around urban areas, land is often sold to individuals looking to transition out of city living or looking for recreational land for hunting.

“They want to be close enough to that downtown center so that they don’t have a long commute to get to work, where they’re still close to the cultural centers and everything that town has to offer,” she said. “But they want that country feel.”

Schlesser said urban sprawl is not a new trend for the state, but it may have been more of a factor in 2020 after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Drop in Union Membership Among Nation’s Largest

Since 2000, no state has seen a larger decline in the proportion of all employees who are union members than Wisconsin. While private sector union membership in the state has declined for decades, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 likely contributed to a much steeper decline in public sector unions in recent years. Today, the vast majority of Wisconsin’s public sector union members are employed by K-12 schools.

New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show nearly all states have seen a decline in the concentration of their workforce that is unionized over the last 20 years, but none more so than Wisconsin.

In 2000, 17.8% of all employed Wisconsinites were members of a union – the 10th-highest concentration in the country. By 2021, that number fell to just 7.9%, putting Wisconsin at 28th among states and below the national average of 10.3%. The 9.9 percentage point drop since 2000 for Wisconsin was the largest nationwide by nearly three percentage points, and substantially more than the national drop of 3.1 percentage points.

The 55.6% decline in the rate of union membership in Wisconsin over the same time period ranked second highest in the country, behind only South Carolina (whose overall membership was lowest nationwide in both 2000 and 2021).

Forum research finds that a combination of legislation aimed at curtailing public unions’ authority and broader national trends impacting
private union membership may help to explain Wisconsin’s drop-off.


DATCP Accepting Applications for Agricultural Export Expansion Grants

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is accepting applications for new export expansion grants through March 18, 2022.

This grant aims to accelerate the growth of Wisconsin dairy, meat, and crop product exports. Applicants must be a not-for-profit organization, located in Wisconsin, and currently serving or have the ability to serve Wisconsin agribusinesses. Wisconsin agribusiness associations, technical colleges, universities, and economic development organizations are encouraged to apply.

Projects can receive grant funds for up to two years in duration, with an option to request an additional year. Grant awards will range from $25,000 to $50,000. Matching funds are required at 20 percent of the grant award and can be cash or in-kind. Eligible project expenses include, but are not limited to, travel associated with trade promotion activities, event promotion, marketing materials, advertising, subscriptions, contractor fees, and translation services.

DATCP will use a competitive review process to select the most qualified projects. Selected projects and work will begin in May 2022.

Grant information and application materials are available at


Biden Administration to Delay Oil and Gas Leasing Amid Legal Appeal

The Biden administration will suspend or delay new federal oil and gas leasing following a court ruling against the process by which it calculates the social cost of climate change, the administration announced Saturday night.

On February 11, Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana, a Trump appointee, blocked the administration’s method of calculating the social costs associated with greenhouse gases, the primary driver of climate change. The Biden administration had returned to Obama-era calculation methods, with plans to develop its own in the future.

In his ruling, Cain blocked federal agencies from considering findings from the White House Interagency Working Group, which had been tasked with devising new metrics based on the Obama-era calculations. It also bars the administration from considering the global impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, one of the major distinctions that made the Obama estimates far higher than the Trump administration’s.

In a legal filing Saturday evening, the Justice Department asked the court to stay the injunction, citing the likelihood that its appeal of the decision will succeed.

“From President Nixon on, every President has imposed some internal Executive Branch requirement for federal agencies to assess the costs and benefits of major government actions,” the filing states. “The injunction further calls into question the authority of the past three Administrations to provide standardized guidance to agencies on appropriate methods of estimating the social cost of greenhouse-gas emissions.”

In the meantime, “work surrounding public-facing rules, grants, leases, permits and other projects has been delayed or stopped altogether so that agencies can assess whether and how they can proceed,” the filing states.


State Assembly Approves Legislation Aiming to Increase State’s Workforce

The Assembly approved a series of bills Republicans say would help increase the size of the state’s workforce by moving more people off of government programs while increasing talent attraction and training efforts.

One of those bills, which passed in a 59-33 vote along party lines, would require the Department of Workforce Development to conduct random audits for at least 50 percent of all work search actions. Current law requires such audits, but does not specify how many must be conducted. The bill would also change application requirements for those looking to receive unemployment benefits.

The Assembly voted 58-34 along party lines to approve AB 935, which would reinstate time limits and implement work requirements for the FoodShare program. Under the bill, DHS would be required to enforce and implement the program’s employment and training program requirement and drug screening, testing and treatment requirements.

AB 934, which passed 59-35 along party lines, would prohibit the Department of Health Services from automatically renewing recipients’ benefits from public assistance programs, including the Medical Assistance. Under the bill, DHS also would be required to review recipients’ eligibility every six months to remove benefits for any recipient that fails to report changes affecting eligibility.

The Assembly also passed AB 936 in a 59-33 vote. Dem Rep. Don Vruwink joined GOP colleagues in supporting the bill. The bill adds to prohibitions to receive benefits from the Medical Assistance program. Under the bill, those who knowingly fail to accept job offers or an increase in paid work hours or wages in order to continue receiving Medical Assistance benefits would lose eligibility for benefits.

The Assembly also approved a bill that would reduce to 16 the age of those who can enter into apprenticeship contracts, among other changes to youth apprenticeship programs. Lawmakers in a 62-30 vote approved AB 973. Dem Reps. Dora Drake, of Milwaukee; Don Vruwink, of Milton, Deb Andraca, of Whitefish Bay, and Steve Doyle, of Onalaska, joined their Republican colleagues in favor of the bill.

The Assembly also approved via party lines 60-34 legislation that would direct Gov. Tony Evers to spend $20 million in federal ARPA funds to promote and expand the availability of apprenticeship programs.

Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, said Dems aren’t opposed to spending money on expanding apprenticeship programs, but are opposed to spending one-time use money on the effort because it does not guarantee the investments will continue down the road. Bill author Rep. Loren Oldenburg, R-Viroqua, argued Republicans would continue to fund the effort as the need arises, and skilled trade workers are badly needed as the workforce shortage has shown.

The Assembly bills now head to the Senate.


United States Retail Sales Surge 3.8% in January

Consumer spending bounced back sharply in January as rising inflation and a post-holiday surge kept cash registers ringing, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday that retail sales for the month rose 3.8%.

Excluding auto sales, the retail gain was 3.3%, after falling 2.8% in the previous month.

Online shopping contributed the most on a percentage basis, with non-store retailers seeing a gain of 14.5%. Furniture and home furnishing sales increased 7.2%, while motor vehicle and parts dealers saw a 5.7% rise.

Food and drinking establishments, considered a barometer for the pandemic-era economy, saw sales dip just 0.9% for the month despite the major escalation in Covid cases fueled by the omicron spread.

“Consumers say they are worried about inflation, but they continue to spend,” PNC’s chief economist, Gus Faucher, wrote. “Even taking into account the December decline, retail sales in recent months have been increasing much faster than prices, so households are purchasing larger volumes of goods and services, not just paying higher prices.”

Sales at sporting goods, music and book stores fell 3% while gasoline station receipts were off 1.3% as a tick down in fuel costs saw prices at the pump move lower.

On a year-over-year basis, retail sales overall rose 13%, pushed higher by a 33.4% surge in gasoline station sales and a 21.9% burst in clothing stores.

Governor Evers Calls Special Session to Address Rising Costs Facing Families, Reducing Barriers to Employment, Investing in our Schools

During his 2022 State of the State address tonight, Gov. Tony Evers announced he will be signing an executive order calling the Legislature to meet in a special session to take up his plan to use a portion of the state’s $3.8 billion projected surplus to send a $150 surplus refund to every Wisconsin resident, provide targeted relief for childcare and caregiver costs, and invest in education while holding the line on property taxes.

Gov. Evers’ plan includes sending every Wisconsin resident $150 to help address rising costs Wisconsin families are experiencing and as businesses face challenges getting supplies and resources. Every Wisconsinite will be able to receive the full surplus refund, including for each of their dependents. A family of four, for example, would receive $600 under the governor’s proposal. Most Wisconsinites would have to take no action to receive the refund, which would be distributed through information provided by an individual on their tax returns. For those who do not plan to file an income tax return, including those who receive Social Security benefits, the Department of Revenue will set up an online portal through which they may file claims for the refund.

In addition to measures aimed at addressing rising costs, Gov. Evers’ plan also includes additional provisions aimed at reducing the costs for childcare and caregiving—key proposals to help support Wisconsin’s workforce and address barriers to employment. Gov. Evers’ plan proposes expanding the newly created Child and Dependent Care Credit from 50 percent of the federal credit to 100 percent. This will provide nearly $30 million in tax relief to 107,000 Wisconsinites who claim the federal credit, or about $274 per filer. Most people who are eligible for the credit could receive up to $600 if they are claiming it for one qualifying individual’s expenses or $1200 for two or more qualifying individuals’ expenses.

Additionally, Gov. Evers is proposing to create an income tax credit for qualified expenses incurred by a family caregiver. A majority of Wisconsinites are in income ranges to be eligible for the credit, and most filers will receive up to $500, while married-separate filers will receive up to $250. The governor’s plan would provide an estimated more than $100 million in tax relief to Wisconsinites who are experiencing increased costs and expenses caring for a family member. The governor originally proposed creating the Caregiver Tax Credit in his 2021-23 biennial budget, but the move was rejected by Republicans in the Legislature.

The governor’s plan also invests nearly $750 million into education at every level to continue improving school quality and address the state’s achievement gap while providing $188 million in property tax relief.

DATCP Secretary Celebrates Record-Breaking Year for Wisconsin Agricultural Exports

Despite some recent years of trade disruptions and supply chain challenges, I am proud of how Wisconsin’s agriculture industry has remained resilient and competitive in providing high-quality agricultural products to the world.

Wisconsin hit a new record for agricultural exports in 2021, exporting an all-time high of more than $3.96 billion. All product categories saw large increases from 2020, with dairy products up 14.6 percent, meat product exports up 10.4 percent, and crop product exports up 20.4 percent. This is not only a boost for our state’s economy, but for the producers who passionately produce agricultural products, agricultural workers who support these producers, agribusinesses, and other industries, such as transportation, that support Wisconsin agriculture.

This record-breaking year presents an incredible opportunity and the momentum needed to strengthen our state as a leader for agricultural exports. Given the challenges that come with exporting, such as tariffs and container shortages, the success and future of Wisconsin’s agricultural exports is not set in stone. Investments in promoting agricultural products and the Wisconsin brand across the world are vital to paving the way for our state’s success in exporting agricultural products.