Shilling for Dairyland

By Eric Timmons

Last October, former state Sen. Jennifer Shilling co-signed a letter with her La Crosse Democratic colleagues, state reps. Steve Doyle and Jill Billings.

The letter was sent to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to urge them to approve the controversial $700 million Nemadji Trails natural gas plant that Dairyland Power Cooperative and Minnesota Power/Allete are planning to build. The commission approved the project in January.

“From valuing sustainability and innovation in their work, to bringing affordable and efficient energy to western Wisconsin, Dairyland is a proven business leader and partner in our community,” the letter Shilling signed in support of the Nemadji Trails project stated.

In April, Shilling announced she would not seek reelection. A month later, she resigned with immediate effect from her District 32 seat and position as the Wisconsin Senate Democratic leader.

On June 1, it was announced that Dairyland Power had hired Shilling as a lobbyist. She will work as Dairyland’s government relations manager, lobbying the lawmakers who just weeks previously she worked alongside on issues like the Nemadji Trails natural gas plant.

Many environmental groups have spoken against the project, pointing out that it would produce millions of tons of the carbon emissions that are driving climate change.

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has also voiced opposition to the plans for the $700 million plant, arguing that in addition to fueling climate change it would damage local wetlands near Superior.

However, the letter signed by Shilling, Doyle and Billings, claimed the project would be “an extensive and beneficial impact on Wisconsin’s economy and environment.”

Clean Wisconsin and the Sierra Club are suing to stop the project in the Dane County Circuit Court. The Minnesota Supreme Court, meanwhile, will review a ruling from an appeals court in that state that called for a new environmental assessment of the proposal. The cost of the proposal would be shared by Dairyland customers in Minnesota, and Dairyland’s four-state territory, which includes Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, in her new role at Dairyland, Shilling will eventually take over from Brian Rude, currently the La Crosse-based company’s vice president for government relations. Rude held Shilling’s District 32 seat in the senate as a Republican from 1984 to 2000. He was the Republican Senate President from 1993 to 1996.

Most states now have “revolving door” rules that stop retiring lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists. But efforts to pass similar legislation in Wisconsin have been stymied. That means state lawmakers in Wisconsin can retire, and almost immediately begin lobbying their former colleagues on behalf of corporations or other special interest groups.

Lobbyists in the capitol in recent years have included four Assembly speakers, a former Senate president, two former Senate majority leaders, and two former Assembly majority leaders.

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Featured image credit: Tony Webster/CC BY-SA 2.0. Picture shows the Genoa coal fired generating station, which Dairyland Power plans to close by next year.

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