Janesville Grapples with Merit, Goals of Green Tier Legacy Community Program

MacIver News Service | July 20, 2012

[Janesville, Wisc…] It’s hard to say what exactly the City of Janesville stands to gain or lose when it comes to the Green Tier Legacy Community program, but the debate over whether or not to join has raged on for more than a year, reaching fever pitch this summer.

The Legacy Community component of Wisconsin’s Green Tier program was introduced in December 2010.

“The program started as a project of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and has now grown into a partnership between the five communities, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin,” according to 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a liberal environmental activist group.

Five communities joined initially: Appleton, Bayfield, Fitchburg, Middleton, and Weston. No other communities have signed on since then.

Membership in the program does not carry much in the way of benefits. Green Tier Legacy Communities meet four times a year with the DNR and two liberal non-profits to swap ideas about environmental initiatives. There are special loans available for green projects, where members would have to pay 90 percent back and the other 10 percent would be considered a grant. (According to one member city, Fitchburg, no one has taken up that offer yet.) Finally, members get a liaison within the DNR to help them navigate the agency’s labyrinthine regulations.

The group has no authority over its members, there are no standards or commitments, and members can leave at any time without paying a fine, according to the DNR.

Mark McDermid, DNR Cooperative Environmental Assistance Director, told the MacIver News Service, “We’re trying to do this in a transparent way. It’s not some clandestine operation.”

In fact, a long list of ideas proposed at the meetings can be found on the DNR’s website. Communities do not need to join Green Tier to see those lists, and there’s nothing to stop communities from picking out the ideas they like and adopting them on their own.

That has opponents of the program questioning what’s the advantage in joining Green Tier. They are given pause by the fact Janesville would be required to sign a charter (essentially a contract) in order to join.

“You can do all these things without signing this contract. So why sign it?” said Al Lembrich, Janesville resident.

If Janesville were to sign the charter, it would be subjecting itself to the lengthy state statute that authorizes the program. There are two other Green Tier programs also contained in the statute, and it has been a challenge trying to decipher it. At a council meeting last month, the city’s attorney said he still hadn’t figured out if Janesville would have to pay a fine if it wanted to get out of Green Tier.

DNR representatives claim there are no fines attached to the program, but their word is not enough for skeptics of the program. They also fear the city would lose some level of local control to the DNR, and it would erode private property rights. Some see it as evidence of Agenda 21, the UN’s worldwide social engineering plan that they say relies heavily on restrictive environmental policy at the local level.

Despite these misgivings and the limited potential benefits to the program, the Janesville City Council isn’t ready to let it go.

Jim Farrell is new to the city council and sits on the sustainability committee. Two years ago that committee was given the green light to create a green-action plan. Farrell is frustrated that plan still does not exist, and believes joining Green Tier would jump start it.

“I like that the DNR would assist us in making the plan,” Farrell told MNS. “I want to see a plan move forward and I see this as a plus.”

The Janesville City Council tabled the issue of joining Green Tier in June. It could bring it back up later this summer.