MADISON, Wisconsin (KWWL) - A regulatory commission could not reach a majority Thursday when voting on a controversial, 492-million-dollar transmission line from Dubuque County to a suburb of Madison.
The Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line is being built by three Midwest energy companies with the goal of increasing access to clean, affordable energy for the region. Hundreds of landowners and several environmental groups have been trying to stop the line because it will cut down thousands of trees, may disturb endangered resources and will carry some fossil fuels.
On June 28, American Transmission Company and ITC Midwest asked the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to rescind the project's approval from September 2019. The companies found years of encrypted messages between Michael Huebsch, a former member of the PSCW, and at least one of their employees.
The messages were sent using an app called Signal, which allows the user to delete messages after they are sent. The companies found records of the conversations but could not access the messages themselves. In an effort to be transparent, they asked the PSCW to rescind their approval and allow them to submit a new application.
During a meeting on Thursday, the three-person PSCW voted 1-1 to "lay over" the 2019 decision. One commissioner voted to rescind the application, one voted for no action at this time, and the third had to abstain for a potential conflict of interest.
The project is allowed to proceed with construction but it may be defeated in court. The Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation are currently suing the PSCW in Wisconsin state court to invalidate the 2019 approval. They allege that commissioners Huebsch and Valcq should have recused themselves from the case because of previous positions held.
Howard Learner, the lawyer for both groups, told KWWL Friday his clients believe they can show there was at least an appearance of bias.
"As the state court promptly considers the facts and evidence, the court should properly conclude that the Commissioners were tainted by bias, or at least the appearance of bias, thereby constituting a due process violation, which requires invalidating the Commission’s prior decision," Learner said.