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Reality Check: Ad Claims Olsen Voted Against Water Protections

Published On: Aug 04 2011 06:09:09 AM CDT   Updated On: Aug 04 2011 09:35:38 AM CDT

Concerns over clean water are center stage in a political ad, but the votes taken and their effects aren't as clear as the ad would make it seem.

The ad is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Luther Olsen. He is being challenged by Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, in the 14th Senate District recall election.

Is Wisconsin water less clean because of a state senator? One interest group would like viewers to think so. Greater Wisconsin Committee, the liberal interest group running this ad, aims to create an ominous environmental theme with the TV ad.

But groups it's getting money from currently include teachers and police unions as well as We Are Wisconsin, another liberal group formed out of the collective bargaining protests that is also running attack ads.

"Sen. Luther Olsen actually voted against protecting our water from poisonous chemicals and toxic pollution," the ad says.

A WISC-TV analysis found this needs clarification. The group points to the state budget, saying Olsen voted for changes in water quality laws that could affect water pollution.

Olsen voted for changes to how companies or municipalities can apply for variances, or exceptions, to state water quality laws. But none of those changes allow for more pollution; they primarily change how waivers to water quality laws can be applied for.

The ad also points to two votes Olsen took on storm water and agriculture runoff on the Joint Finance Committee. First, Olsen voted for the Gov. Scott Walker's plan to let the Department of Natural Resources rewrite regulations on how agriculture and construction pollution was policed, then he reversed that vote with other Republicans.

In the end, the committee did reduce standards for how much municipalities have to control storm water runoff.

"Olsen even voted against efforts to strengthen protections against mercury and cyanide," the ad says.

WISC-TV found his needs clarification. The ad is citing votes from 2005 and 2001. The 2005 vote was against a plan to forbid the state from reducing mercury emission standards, if new federal guidelines turned out to be lower. In reality, federal guidelines were never issued and the mercury standard in Wisconsin was never changed.

In 2001, when Olsen was in the state Assembly, he voted not to pull from committee two bills to prohibit the use of cyanide in metallic mining. Much of this had to do with the proposed Crandon mine, which never happened, but the votes did effectively kill those bills.

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