PolitiFact: Claim of Scott Walker banning phrase climate change ‘false’

Scottaway Screen ShotPolitiFact took a progressive group out to the woodshed today for creating a misleading website that says presidential hopeful Gov Scott Walker (R) has banned state employees from using the phrase ‘climate change.’ Forecast the Facts, a project of the liberal group Citizen Engagement Laboratory, says it developed the website called scottaway.com in response to the Walker administration’s denial of climate change. But PolitiFact took a closer look at that claim and found it to be without merit.

The “scottaway the truth” website, which allows users to click a giant red button that swaps out ‘climate change’ with words like ‘magic weather’ and ‘extended Popsicle season,’ stated that “Governors Rick Scott (FL) and Scott Walker (WI) both run state governments that ban employees from talking about climate change.” But when PolitiFact started snooping around, the site ‘magically’ swapped out its header to read (changes in bold): “Governors Rick Scott (FL) and Scott Walker (WI) both support state agencies that reportedly ban employees from talking about climate change.”

The claim started months ago when Tia Nelson, executive secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), was prohibited from working on non-agency global warming initiatives while at work. Back in early April, the board voted 2-1 to approve a resolution that banned its staff from “engaging in global warming or climate change work while on BPCL time.” The board was aptly concerned that Nelson, daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, was spending work time advocating global warming policies “as part of her role as co-chair of Gov. Jim Doyle’s now disbanded task force on global warming.”

The board’s job is to manage forested lands, with over a billion dollars in “Trust Fund assets and 77,000 acres of School Trust Lands.” It also makes loans to Wisconsin school districts and employs ten full-time employees at no cost to the taxpayer.  BCPL “distributes 96 cents on every dollar earned from its investments to K-12 public school beneficiaries.”

However, as PolitiFact noted, the board is not part of the executive branch, its officials are elected, and its employees make up roughly “.0003 percent of the state’s 30,000 total employees.” In fact, Walker has no control over the board as it’s outside of the governor’s jurisdiction.

PolitiFact found search results showing numerous Wisconsin agencies actively engaged in conversations about climate change, such as “on the Department of Natural Resources’ web page, which talks about climate change and the Great Lakes, and the Department of Transportation documents related to its long-term transportation plan.” When PolitiFact asked Forecast the Facts to back up its claims, it sent an audio recording of the BCPL’s meeting and vote.

When pressed further, Forecast the Fact’s campaign director Brant Olson could not name a single part of the state government with a climate change ban in place. Instead, Forecast the Facts pointed to an April 9, 2015, NY Times article that says Governor Walker didn’t think it was unreasonable to “enact policies requiring board staff to focus on board-related activities.” The scottaway site also attempts to link Scott Walker to allegations that Gov. Rick Scott banned the phrase climate change in Florida.

Meanwhile, the board is one day away from changing the ban from “engaging in global warming or climate change work” to engaging in “policy advocacy” on the state’s nickel, as a vote is scheduled for tomorrow. Matt Adamczyk, a board member who voted yes on the current ban, believes employees should not be working on issues outside of the agency’s purview. 

Adamczyk said in an April interview the “new rule was designed to prevent employees from involving themselves in issues that go beyond what he sees as the agency’s mission.” He also noted that employees can still discuss climate change but not at the expense of getting their jobs done or on state time. According to the NY Times, Adamczyk is committed to ridding the state of wasteful spending and providing tangible services to Wisconsin residents.

In the end, PolitiFact rated the claim False.