PSC Updates

Big Win in Cook County Circuit Court

We haven’t won all the way to stopping CHC but we’ve come a lot closer.   “A big win” is how Howard Learner described the decision by Judge Jacob Frost of Dane County Circuit Court.   Our side will now be allowed to prove that Commission Huebsch should have recused himself because of actual–or the appearance of–bias.  If we are successful, Judge Frost would then invalidate the commissioners’ decision to approve construction of CHC.
Judge Frost’s opinion can be downloaded here.  CHC.State Court.Opinion and Order re Tainted Decision.May 25.2021
It is strong and very much in our favor.


Important. Public comments are due at the PSC, Monday July 12, 2021 by 1:30pm

Submit comments here:
Simplest/easiest comment:  Please do this at the very least!  : )
1.  Say that the Court, not the PSC, should make the decision about rescinding the CPCN.
2.  Say that you join in the comments being submitted by DALC and WWF.
Longer comment — using DALC/WWF suggestions
1.  Say that the Court, not the PSC, should make the decision about rescinding the CPCN.
2.  Optional to say whether you join in the comments being submitted by DALC and WWF.
3.  Read through points 2-7 and decide if you want to add some of the detail from them.
4.  Optional to add additional points or comments of your own.
Longer CommentExpress your own opinion
   It’s your choice whether to use any or some of DALC and WWF’s suggestions.
Keep in mind that this comment period is limited to ATC’s request to rescind the CPCN and to reopen the docket and “consider next steps.”  It is not relevant to rehash our strong reasons for opposing CHC.
1. I join in the comments submitted by the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

2. It is now clear that the Commission’s approval of the CPCN for the controversial proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line is fatally flawed and is no longer defensible.  The Commission’s attorneys should confess error in the cases pending before the Dane County Circuit and the U.S. District Court, acknowledge that the Commission’s approval process for the CPCN was tainted by bias or at least the appearance of bias, and end their defense of the Commission’s tainted Final Decision approving the CPCN.

3. The Commission is legally and constitutionally bound to conduct any future proceedings in accordance with Due Process requirements.  Chair Valcq and Commissioner Nowak have been tainted by their participation in the proceedings below, and they are disqualified from further participation on the requested CPCN, or any re-opened request for a CPCN, for the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line. This means, at a minimum, that Chair Valcq and Commissioner Nowak may not participate in any further proceedings involving the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.  If they were instead to do so, that would undermine public confidence in the fairness, impartiality and integrity of the Commission’s decision-making process.

4.  Commissioner Tyler Huebner has recused himself from this CPCN case because of his participation as a party in the CPCN case proceedings before the Commission, and he should continue to recuse himself.

5.  Chair Valcq should, in any event, recuse herself from participation due to the conflicts of interest and lack of impartiality issues that DALC and WWF have raised.  The U.S. District Court denied the Commission’s motion to dismiss DALC/WWF’s federal constitutional due process claims, including this conflict of interest and lack of impartiality issue.

6. This controversial Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line case has revealed serious irregularities at the Commission that appear to also extend far beyond this particular case and cannot be simply swept under the carpet. There should be a full open-to-the-public review and accounting of the extent of misconduct and ex parte communications between Commissioners and regulated parties – here, transmission companies and utilities, and their owners, as well as MISO – in order to provide a record of what happened and instill more public confidence that it won’t happen again.

7.  The Commission and the transmission companies and utilities should use this extraordinary situation as an opportunity to fully and fairly consider alternative transmission solutions and non-wires alternatives that would be economically reasonable and would better protect Southwest Wisconsin’s scenic Driftless Area landscapes, vital natural resources, family farms, communities, and local economies.  Doing so in this case would help to rebuild public trust and confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s decision-making process.
Here is the letter that the DD Leadership Team sent to three agencies on April 30, 2021


Greetings to:

Charley Wooley, Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Christopher McLean, Acting Administrator, USDA Rural Utilities Service

LTG Scott Spellmon, Chief of Engineers & Commanding General, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers

It has come to our attention that the developers of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) high-voltage transmission line requested to amend the ROW through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  Such action requires a review by the three federal agencies who previously approved the project.  Thus we are contacting you, as leaders of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Rural Utilities Service, and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, to respectfully request that you seriously reconsider the CHC project and its deleterious effect on the Refuge.

Driftless Defenders initiated an online petition “STOP the Destruction of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.”  Attached are pdf’s of signatures and comments forwarded to us by at 9:15 a.m. on April 30.  At that time the petition had been signed by 46,264 people.  The numbers continue to rise on their website.

The impressive outpouring of public support proves that people recognize and value the tremendous importance of saving natural areas for wildlife, protecting our environment, and slowing climate change.  One petition signer summed it up well:  “Refuges are protected for wildlife and for all future generations to enjoy.  Trees are also producing our world’s oxygen and absorbing our carbon dioxide, which is of utmost importance for climate change.  Let’s not destroy what can’t ever be repaired!”

Although the Upper Mississippi Refuge is one of the most-visited National Wildlife Refuges and provides opportunities for people to fish, hunt, canoe, and birdwatch, this is not a NIMBY issue.  The enormous number of signers from all across the United States demonstrates that this is a national issue.  People are committed to preserving all of our country’s refuges, not just the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge.  They passionately believe that “Nature is the most important resource to preserve.” as stated by another signer.

The 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act states that national refuges were designed to protect and conserve our Nation’s wildlife resources.  Your agencies are obligated by law to follow this Act, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act.  Transmission lines are not compatible with the wildlife purpose of refuges nor are they listed in the Refuge Improvements Act’s main components.

The Upper Mississippi River Refuge is a designated Wetland of International Importance as well as a Globally Important Bird Area.  It lies within the Mississippi Flyway, a route used by more than 325 migratory bird species and up to 40 percent of the continent’s waterfowl population.  Many petition signers commented that a “Refuge” should be exactly what the name implies:  “A place of shelter, protection & safety!” that should provide “safety from harm.”  A major example of harm and lack of protection is the exorbitant numbers of birds that are tragically killed in collisions with transmission lines.  The CHC transmission line is therefore not compatible with this Refuge that is noted for its importance to our Nation’s and North

America’s birds.  As many commentators stated, protecting wildlife and natural habitats is our responsibility as humans.  You are doubly responsible as federal leaders.

Your agencies have the power to save this Refuge from destruction and also impact refuge management across our country.  An informed public will no longer tolerate placing industrial-scale infrastructure projects within national refuges because we are aware of the irreversible negative impacts they impose on the environment and wildlife.  How can you justify the environmental destruction when the CHC transmission line is not needed?  The only benefit is to developers and their shareholders who will make money while charging utility ratepayers for their project.  There is no longer a need for corporate giants to control and monopolize energy production and distribution because nowadays locally-produced alternatives are viable options.  You have been given the perfect place, time, and opportunity to stop this precedent by setting an example with Cardinal-Hickory Creek.  As stated by a signer: ”This is a matter of ethics! We can’t keep destroying land for the profit of utility companies.”

We urge you to respect the 46,264 people who signed our petition.  Do not approve the Cardinal-Hickory Creek project.  Do the right thing for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and for all other national refuges — protect and conserve our Nation’s Wildlife resources!  Thank you.


Driftless Defenders Leadership Team

Michelle Citron, Kate Cooper, Betsy D’Angelo, Boyd Gibbons, Susan Michmerhuizen, Frank Sandner, Lea Stroncek

cc   U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Suzanne Baird

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Martha Williams, Refuge Manager, Upper Mississippi River Nat’l Wildlife & Fish Refuge, Sabrina Chandler

  Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland

EPA Region 5, Cheryl Newton

Council on Environmental Quality, Brenda Mallory

Governor Tony Evers

Representative Ron Kind

Representative Mark Pocan

Senator Tammy Baldwin

Senator Tammy Duckworth

Good news – the federal case alleging bias of two PSC Commissioners will continue!  ATC, ITC, Dairyland, and the PSC did NOT succeed in getting the case thrown out of court with their motion to dismiss.

Judge William Conley’s decision is described in detail in Chris Hubbuch’s article in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Thank you to the 73 people who virtually attended oral arguments in federal court on November 9, 2020. Judge Conley stated he received helpful information from the 7 attorneys that will help him decide on the Motion to Dismiss. We will keep you updated. You can watch the hearing at



Former Wisconsin regulator sought job as utility CEO months after voting to approve projects, Chris Hubbuch, Wisconsin State Journal, 8/4/20.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Letter from Senator Tammy Duckworth regarding the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge and Cardinal-Hickory Creek.
Letter from Driftless Defenders Leadership Team to Representative Ron Kind regarding Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge and Cardinal-Hickory Creek.
Howard Learner and the staff at Environmental Law and Policy Center have been hard at work.  Here is their Reply Brief, filed with Dane County Circuit Court on July 10 by attorneys Brad Klein, Howard Learner, Rachel Granneman, and Ann Jaworski.
This state appeal questions the merits of the PSC decision. (The federal appeal questions the non-recusal of two PSC commissioners.)  Opening Briefs were submitted on May 1, Response Briefs on June 15, and lastly this Reply Brief on July 10.  Since Judge Niess has retired, Judge Jacob Frost will issue the decision, based on the briefs and, probably, oral argument.  Frost is an Evers appointee and the only information I have is from this 6/8/20 Wisconsin State Journal article.
On behalf of everyone at Driftless Defenders, we send our sincere thanks and gratitude to Environmental Law and Policy Center.
As you know the Iowa County Board voted to file a lawsuit challenging the PSC’s decision to approve the CHC transmission line.  Their attorney has filed the first brief and is working on the next.  Some county supervisors have suggested that the County Board should review their decision and then confirm or deny whether to continue with the lawsuit.  If Iowa County were to drop out of the appeal it could have serious consequences.  We need to be proactive to ensure this does not happen!  Please contact your supervisor and virtually attend the County Board Meeting on Tuesday, June 16 at 7 p.m.

Conference Call 1-646-876-9923

Zoom meeting ID: 841 55677711

Supervisor contact info


The follow letter was sent individually to each Iowa County Board Supervisor by the leadership team of Driftless Defenders.

Dear Iowa County Board Supervisor _______,
It has come to our attention that Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting included discussion of whether to continue with the County’s lawsuit appealing the decision made by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line project proposed by American Transmission Company (ATC) and partners.  We urge you to continue!
As you know by the appearance of large numbers of people at your meetings, for four years there has been strong and persistent grassroots opposition to this project.  A record number of almost 1,000 people attended the three-day PSC Public Hearings last June, and 500 of them assembled at Dodger Bowl — even though there was inadequate parking and a storm with torrential downpour.
We were pleased when you responded to your constituents by first passing a resolution opposing the transmission line and subsequently voting to file a lawsuit.
Your constituents remain fervently opposed to the transmission lines.  Our only hope is for justice to prevail with this lawsuit, and county involvement is an important component.  Please continue to support us and remain true to the good decision you made when you voted 14 to 2 with one abstention to file an appeal.  Thank you.
Driftless Defenders Leadership Team
    Michelle Citron
    Kate Cooper
    Betsy D’Angelo
    Boyd Gibbons
    Susan Michmerhuizen
    Frank Sandner
    Lea Stroncek
Things are moving along with our State appeal of the merits of the PSC’s decision regarding CHC. Opening Briefs were filed on May 1st in Dane County Circuit Court by the following parties:


*  Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF)
*  Iowa County
*  Dane County
*  Klopp
*  Belken
Below are links to the briefs.
Filing of these briefs is a result of details worked out in the preliminary hearings.  The judge would normally have decided the appeal case by reviewing the record, based solely upon documents that were part of the Public Service Commission’s proceedings (i.e., what they decided to include). Because our side’s arguments were persuasive in pointing out that important information had been left out, Judge Niess ruled to allow additional information.  Among the added documents are the inclusion of Environmental Law and Policy Center’s criticism of the flawed Decision Matrix.
Next steps of the process:
June 15 – Response briefs from other side
July 10  – Reply briefs from our side
No date –  Judge Niess will make the decision; there will be no jury.  The time line is at his discretion.
There is a federal appeals case which is based on the refusal of Commissioners Valcq and Huebsch to recuse themselves from the CHC decision.  Proceedings are ongoing but we have no information to report.
Stay Safe, everyone, and Be Well!

Belkin Initial Brief

Initial Brief of Iowa County, The Village of Montfort and The Town of Wyoming for Dane County-184


Klopp Initial Brief-Amended





First Court Hearing Held

A hearing was held on January 21, 2020 before Judge Richard Niess at Dane County Circuit Court in Madison to work our organizational procedures for the appeal challenging the PSC’s approval of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.  After agreement from attorneys for both sides, the Judge granted an Order for Consolidation and an Order for Intervention.  He granted the Public Service Commission an extension to February 11 to file initial papers.  Lawyers for both sides agreed to work together to determine further submission deadlines.  After that the appeals process will begin.


Groups File Court Challenges to PSC Decisions

On Wednesday, December 11, the Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a lawsuit in the the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on behalf of Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation challenging the refusal of two commissioners to recuse themselves in the Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line case and the PSC’s subsequent approval of the line.

On Thursday and Friday, December 12 and 13, Dane County, Iowa County, joined by two municipalities, DALC and WWF filed appeals in Wisconsin state court challenging the PSC’s approval of the CHC line.


CHC – Right-of-Ways & Easements

The following is information from the Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Land owners on the Cardinal-Hickory Creek route:

You will be contacted by the developers.  How you respond will affect the disposition of your land now and on into the future.

Strongly SuggestedDon’t sign anything until you’ve consulted an attorney and/or land appraiser.

Helpful Details


  • Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Iowa County and others are appealing the decision of the Public Service Commission.  If successful in the courts, this project will be stopped or postponed.   Federal permitting and other processes are also continuing.
  • Even as the appeals and other processes move forward at the Federal level, the developers – ITC, ATC and others – are contacting individual landowners to begin the easement-signing process.
  • You have rights with respect to your land!  You Do Not Have to Sign any documents as presented. It’s strongly advised that you consult with an attorney regarding the contract and any other requests by the transmission company or their agents.
  • The developers’ agents will likely ply you with many misleading or partially false reasons to sign such as:
    • It’s to the landowner’s advantage and will be easier to sign early.
    • The neighbors are all signing up.
    • Bonuses are available for early signers.  Don’t Take the Bait!  We strongly suggest you make no decisions until you’ve learned more through an attorney, land appraiser of other resources.
  • NOTE:  In similar situations, some landowners have been awarded much more by a court than was offered by the transmission company.

Rights-of-Ways and Easements for Electrical Facility Construction in Wisconsin

This document (click on the link above for full text) contains more information about what an easement is and your rights. The document is not short, but it does have a table of contents that you can use to help navigate. Here are a few highlights:

  • An easement between a transmission owner and a landowner is a legal contract that allows the transmission owner to build and maintain the power line.  It sets forth the rights of the transmission company and the landowner with respect to the property.
  • Any easement will run with the land and impact future landowners.
  • In a typical negotiation, a transmission owner’s agent presents a landowner with a draft easement and an estimate of the value of the Right of Way (ROW) it wants to purchase. The landowner has the right to negotiate both the terms and the amount to be paid.
  • The landowner has the right to have his or her own appraisalmade by a qualified appraiser. The reasonable cost of this appraisal must be reimbursed by the transmission owner if: (1) it is submitted to the utility within 60 days after receipt of the utility’s appraisal; and (2) it meets the standards under Wisconsin law.
  • There is nothing barring one landowner along a proposed transmission route from discussing easement concerns with other landowners before signing.
  •   Landowners have certain rights under the law that they do not have to waive.  The document lists these. However, the transmission company may still ask you to waive these rights. Look for items that are crossed out or specified as “waived.”



Here are comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line, submitted by Environmental Law and Policy Center on behalf of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

DALC-WWF CHC FEIS Comments to RUS.Nov 25.2019

DALC-WWF.Comment on USF&WS Draft Compatibility Determination w Attachments.Nov 25.2019

Thanks to everyone who took the time to contributed to the FEIS!


THANK YOU Iowa County Board of Supervisor
Voted to Appeal the CHC PSC Decision

And thanks to everyone who worked to make this happen.

Final CHC Route

The link below will take you to a map of the final CHC route (in blue).  “+” allows you to zoom in to see the exact route in detail.

CHC Route

PSC Commissioners Give Final Approval to CHC

Much to our dismay, on Thursday, September 26th, all three Public Service commissioners gave their final approval to Cardinal-Hickory Creek.  Realistically speaking, we knew a vote to deny was unlikely.  Given the unprecedented and convincing opposition, however, we had hoped for a split vote.

Next Step:  An Appeal

This setback does not mean our fight has ended.  Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), together with Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, will appeal the decision.  They will be represented by attorney Howard Learner, Executive Director of Environmental Law and Policy Center.  He and his staff represented them during the PSC proceedings and will continue to do so throughout the appeal process.  All of their work has been, and will continue to be,  pro bono.  We are sincerely grateful.

To familiarize yourself with Howard Learner, watch this interview on Wisconsin Public Television’s “Here and Now.”  Watch Here


Since Driftless Defenders began three years ago we have been fortunate to have had a close working relationship with Driftless Area Land Conservancy.  We also benefitted from their relationship with Environmental Law and Policy Center.  As a new grassroots organization we would not have been as effective in this fight without their combined guidance.

It is essential that we continue to support them as the appeal process moves forward.  Despite the  pro bono work of ELPC, DALC needs to complete payment of significant expenses for the expert witnesses who gave testimony before the PSC.  Going forward there will be added expenses for the appeal process.  If you are able, please help us stop CHC and acknowledge DALC’s contribution to the cause by making a tax-deductible donation to cover their legal expenses.

Write check to Driftless Area Land Conservancy.

           Write “CHC” in the memo field to restrict your donation to the fight
Mail to: Driftless Area Land Conservancy
206 South Iowa St
P.O. Box 323
Dodgeville, WI  53533

SEND ONLINE:  Donate Here

Details about the PSC Commissioners’ Approval:

More than 100 people attended the PSC Open Session, spilling out of the hearing room into an overflow room with video.  Our understanding was that the commissioners would be having a discussion of a “Decision Matrix,” created by their staff. The meeting began with a short introduction during which the public was praised for their overwhelming input and knowledge about CHC.  The record number of intervenors were also thanked.  Next, with no discussion of the Matrix, all three commissioners announced their approval of CHC.  People were stunned!  Many walked out and gathered in the lobby in a state of confusion, where reporters interviewed some of them.

Many attendees remained for four hours to hear the commissioners discuss the Decision Matrix. It defined 33 issues and under each listed opinions and testimonies of all parties.  They were upset to realize the commissioners disregarded the testimony by expert witnesses and public intervenors, the bipartisan opposition of legislators and municipalities, and the overwhelming public opinion, along with ignoring their own staff’s recommendations.  They abandoned any provisions and protections that would have mitigated the hardship this construction will bring to natural habitats and protected areas, landowner easements, and other reparations.

For a very good report, please listen to Wisconsin Public Radio Morning Show, “Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Approved.”  Chris Hubbuch of the Wisconsin State Journal gives an accurate account of the reaction of the crowd and includes a description of the impressive volunteer work that has been done by the opposition. Read More

You can also read Chris Hubbuch’s report in the Wisconsin State Journal, “Regulators approve controversial Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line,” which provides many quotes from both sides of the issue. Read More

Immediately after the decision was announced Democrat legislators Pope, Hesselbein, Considine, and Erpenbach issued a press release stating they were disappointed and surprised by the approval, given the extent of opposition.

Governor Evers’ Announcement and Subsequent Press Conference:

Equally distressing was the timing of two news items the Friday before the Tuesday PSC meeting.  With PSC Commission Chair Rebecca Valcq present, Governor Tony Evers once again announced his executive order for Wisconsin to be carbon free by 2050. Read More

Just one hour later RENEW and Clean Grid Alliance held a press conference at the Capitol stating that the only way Evers’ clean energy goals could be met was by building CHC.   Read More

The following Tuesday all three commissioners gave as one of their reasons for approval that Cardinal-Hickory Creek was needed in order to achieve the goal of clean energy. Driftless Defenders, other opposition groups, and expert witnesses believe we do not need transmission lines to meet this important goal.  The better way to make us carbon free is by using local clean energy alternatives and modern storage technology, rather than building a destructive, unnecessary, outmoded line that will carry a significant amount of fossil fuel generated electricity.

We urge you to make your opinion known to Governor Evers

Governor Tony Evers
115 E State Capitol
Madison WI 53703


We Are Not Giving Up

While the PSC decision was very discouraging, it has been heartening to see that people are still engaged.  Members of Driftless Defenders and other opposition groups are making suggestions for how to proceed and offering their help.  Our  Leadership Team, in coordination with other opposition groups, is discussing ways to channel this energy.  If you have comments or ideas to share, please contact us

We hope you will continue to support Driftless Defenders in this fight to defeat Cardinal-Hickory Creek.

As Howard Learner reminds us, “We’re in this to win!  And we’re only in the third inning.”




Thanks to everyone who attended the PSC Public Hearings.  Attendance was excellent!  Almost 1,000 attendees at all sessions, and approximately 130 speakers.  Administrative Law Judge Newmark described the hearings as an “amazing experience.”  He said the testimonies were well-thought out, intelligent, and passionate, and they will definitely benefit the record.


Dodgeville PSC Public Hearing 6/27/19


Madison PSC Public Hearing 6/26/19


ALJ Michael Newmark welcomes crowd of 160 to Lancaster Public Hearing, 6/25/19.




Here are simulations of what the CHC will look like if it is built.

Simulation of towers along County Road Z, Spring Green

Simulation of towers in residential area in Mt. Horeb