Wisconsin Public Radio
The Driftless Area is the Midwest’s premier biodiversity hotspot, covering the ancient landscape surrounding the Mississippi River as it flows through northern Illinois, western Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota and eastern Iowa.
The area contains a high concentration of unique topographical and geological features, like hundreds of rare cold-water tributary streams that flow in and out of porous limestone “karst” rock formations and into the Mississippi River. Because of that unique geology, the Driftless Area contains dozens of uncommon species of reptiles, amphibians and plants, with abundant populations of native fish. The region plays a critical role as a rest and feeding stop for more than half of North America’s bird species, forming the largest contiguous area of fish and wildlife habitat remaining in the central United States.
The Driftless Area, like other special natural places, is under threat from development and resultant habitat fragmentation and degradation, pollution, the spread of invasive alien species and climate change. If action is not taken soon, many native species and ecosystems will disappear.
ELPC is representing the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) in a campaign against a proposed high voltage transmission line that would run from Dubuque County, Iowa to Middleton, Wisconsin, just west of Madison. This new power line would cross the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Cassville, Wisconsin, and then cut a swath through the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin. The Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line, proposed by the American Transmission Company (ATC), ITC Midwest, and Dairyland Power Cooperative, would feature towers up to 17 stories tall, negatively affecting many special natural resource areas in Wisconsin. It would have broad-reaching adverse effects, from impacts on endangered species to tourism to farming operations to property values.
This huge new high-voltage transmission line is not needed. In fact, electricity demand in southwest and central Wisconsin and points eastward is flat or declining. Energy needs could be better and more efficiently met through energy efficiency, demand management, distributed generation, storage, and local renewable energy resources, which would provide local jobs and support the local economy.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved the transmission line in September 2019. However, extensive improper ex parte communications between the transmission companies and former Commissioner Huebsch, who led the meeting to initially approve the line, tainted the PSC’s decision-making process. We petitioned for review of the Commission’s decision in Wisconsin state court, alleging bias and violations of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act and state utility law. The Court allowed discovery to establish the facts on bias and the due process violations. We also brought suit on behalf of DALC and WWF in federal court alleging a due process violation.
In an effort to preserve our public conservation lands from massive transmission lines and pipelines, ELPC is suing several federal agencies on behalf of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife. This lawsuit is against the Rural Utilities Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for violating the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act in approving the unnecessary Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line.
ELPC is also advocating for increased funding for the Driftless Area Conservation Initiative (DALCI) 2.0. A new DALCI initiative would provide additional trout habitat, improve water quality and provide immediate economic activity in rural America.