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Tuesday, September 28th, 2021
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MADISON — Environmental groups trying to shut down a half billion dollar proposed power line have dropped their demands to root through the private possessions of a former Public Service Commission member.

Not because the organizations had a change of heart about the constitutional quagmire they would create, but because they are crying poverty.

Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation recently withdrew their requests for subpoenas that had ordered former Commissioner Michael Huebsch to turn over his cellphone and submit to an interrogation by the groups’ attorneys. Huebsch is not even a named litigant in the lawsuit against the Public Service Commission, which in 2019 approved the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line between suburban Madison and Dubuque, Iowa.

Earlier this month, an appeals court judge stayed the subpoenas and Dane County Judge Jacob Frost’s order that Huebsch comply with them. Huebsch’s attorneys argue the subpoenas amount to an unconditional fishing expedition.

The environmental groups are more than glad to go fishing, they just don’t want to pay for it.

“Mr. Huebsch has already won his appeals,” the attorneys wrote in their filing in the District III Court of Appeals. “Not because he’s right on the merits — he isn’t — but because of the collective burden that he, the transmission companies, third-party executives and representatives of the transmission companies, and the PSC, represented by ten law firms and groups of attorneys, have imposed on non-profit DALC and WWF.”

Poor litigious environmental groups. It can be expensive trying to violate the property and due process rights of people who don’t immediately capitulate to your legal demands. Sometimes the plan to sue until project developers throw up their hands and walk away or regulators bend to extreme demands meets resistance.

But don’t fret too much about the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. The latter boasted over $1 million in assets and $300,000 plus in revenue in fiscal year 2019, and the former recorded nearly $1.2 million in assets and $629,000 in revenue in the same year.

It should come as no surprise that the PSC would defend its right to regulate and the companies behind the project would fight to complete it.

The environmental groups, up until being checked by the appeals court, have stopped at nothing to shut down the project.

Cardinal-Hickory Creek won unanimous approval by the three-member PSC. When the groups failed to convince regulators to reject permitting the line, they began making allegations of bias against members of the Public Service Commission who approved it.

After the PSC voted 3-0 in a preliminary decision to grant a permit in September 2019, attorneys for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation requested that Huebsch and PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq recuse themselves from the final vote based on perceived conflicts of interest. Valcq was formerly with WEC Energy Group, the majority owner of American Transmission Co., lead developer of the project. Huebsch previously served on a committee of the Midwest grid operator, MISO, a party to the proceedings.

Huebsch and Valcq, an Evers appointee to the commission, denied the allegations and voted with Commissioner Ellen Nowak in authorizing the project.

The suers think Huebsch should turn over his phone and submit to questioning because previous discovery revealed Huebsch had conversations with some of the defendants. Of course, conveniently left out is the fact that he’s had lots of conservations with them — they have been friends for years, long before the power line project came before the PSC.

Frost agreed to drop his order in accordance with the environmental groups’ decision to withdraw. He really had no other choice. The writing was on the wall.

As Huebsch’s motion before the appeals court noted, Frost’s “unprecedented oral ruling at issue here cries out for an immediate stay and swift reversal.”

Not only would Huebsch be “irreparably harmed” by having to comply with a “legally baseless subpoena,” so too would the basic tenets of due process.

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