August 22, 2012
By Peter McKeever
About 10 years ago, I was doing some advocacy work for an organization called Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation, or AHR. This was a national coalition of wildlife and recreation groups supporting full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Act. AHR included groups with interests as diverse as wildlife, hunting and fishing, wetland protection, sports like soccer and softball, and local park and recreation departments.
Their common interest was persuading Congress to fulfill its promise to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Created in 1965, LWCF was to be funded with revenues from the depletion of offshore oil and gas and was to support the conservation of another valuable resource, land and water. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling on the outer continental shelf was to be placed in the fund.
The money was to be used to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects, to create and protect national wildlife refuges and national parks, and to protect areas around rivers and lakes from development.
But every year Congress broke its promise: LWCF has never been fully funded. My job was to organize support in the Midwest for full funding and to convey that support to members of Congress.
I called U.S. Representative Paul Ryan’s office, explained my objective, and asked a time to meet with him. An appointment was scheduled in his district office, in Janesville, and on the appointed date I drove there, accompanied by a DNR employee who could help explain how important this fund was for Wisconsin communities.
We had a cordial conversation with the congressman, and in the course of that conversation the topic of wetlands naturally came up. What was surprising was how quickly Ryan asked when would wetland fill permitting in Wisconsin allow mitigation banking, the practice of spending public money to create or maintain a new wetland after an existing wetland is filled in. He made it very clear that he thought this should be a high priority, and he mentioned his family company’s experience moving earth.
Creating a new wetland requires the moving a lot of earth, and it so happens that Paul Ryan’s family owns one of the nation’s largest earth moving companies, Ryan Incorporated Central. On its website the company touts its experience and expertise in constructing wetlands.
Even assuming that a “constructed wetland” comes close to replicating the ecological functions of a natural wetland is to raise the question, What have you been smoking? Ryan showed little interest in the legislation, and made no commitments to support it in spite of the benefits it would have for his constituents.
But putting that reality aside, the most disturbing thing about the meeting was that he so blatantly made it clear that his primary interest was changing the wetland fill permitting process so that his family’s business might be able to belly up to the trough and get profitable contracts.
Perhaps it would not have been surprising if he had known us as campaign supporters and we had been there pushing for legislation to create more earth moving opportunities. The fact that he made this leap to personal benefit so quickly with two strangers left me with a very bad taste in my mouth, and no confidence that Ryan was in office to act in the interests of the public.
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