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By Sarah Hauer June 16, 2015

Group says Scott Walker bans employees from talking about climate change

If a website from a progressive group is to be believed, state workers in Wisconsin cannot even say the words "climate change."

So the website, developed by an operation called Forecast the Facts, allows readers to click a red button on the screen and get alternative words to use, like "weather roulette" and "extended Popsicle season."

One tongue-in-cheek offering: "In the U.S., FREE OUTDOOR HEATING is predicted to cause more heat waves, flooding, wildfires, sea level rise and drought."

Forecast the Facts, a project of the progressive Citizen Engagement Laboratory, says it developed the website in response to government denial of climate change.

"Governors Rick Scott (FL) and Scott Walker (WI) both run state governments that ban employees from talking about climate change," the group said on the site.

Scott’s administration is reported to have an unofficial policy banning employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and other agencies, from using "climate change" or "global warming" in official communications.

But we are interested here in Wisconsin and Walker, who is a top GOP presidential contender.

Are state government employees in Wisconsin banned from talking about climate change?

The genesis of the claim

In April, we rated True a claim by the group NextGen Climate that Tia Nelson, executive secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, was prohibited from talking about global warming while on state time.

The board manages state lands and a trust that funds school libraries and makes loans to school districts. The board employs 10 full-time staff members.

On April 7, the board voted 2-1 to approve a resolution that banned its staff from "engaging in global warming or climate change work while on BCPL time." The resolution grew out of concerns that Nelson had spent time advocating for climate change policies as part of her role as co-chair of Gov. Jim Doyle’s now disbanded task force on global warming.

The board is to vote Tuesday June 16, 2015, on a measure that would change the ban from "engaging in global warming or climate change work" to engaging in "policy advocacy" on the board’s time.

About the board

But Walker is not on the board.

Its members, as defined by the state constitution, are three other statewide elected officials -- Attorney General Brad Schimel and state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, both Republicans, and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, a Democrat.

Thus, the board is not even part of the executive branch. Its 10 employees represent about .0003 percent of the state’s about 30,000 total employees.

Cullen Werwie, communications director for the state Department of Administration, said no cabinet agency under Walker had such a ban.

And we could not find any such evidence either.

On the flip side, we did find examples of government engaging in conversation 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.

A search for the terms "climate change" or "global warming" on sites yielded more than 1,000 results.

A tenuous connection

When we asked Forecast the Facts for back up to its claim, it sent an audio recording of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands meeting and vote.

But that board, of course, is separate from Walker. And the group’s claim was broader, referring generally to state government employees, not just those in one department.

Brant Olson, the campaign director for the group, could not name any other part of state government with such as ban in place.

Instead, the group cited a quote from Laurel Patrick, the governor’s spokeswoman, in a New York Times article about the board’s ban: "Generally, Governor Walker does not think it is unreasonable to enact policies requiring board staff to focus on board-related activities."

Olson said the quote showed the climate change ban was "clearly a decision he endorses."

While we were reporting this item, though, the group swapped in some new words.

The language on the web site was changed to read: "Governors Rick Scott (FL) and Scott Walker (WI) both support state agencies that reportedly ban employees from talking about climate change."

Even that could be outdated if the public lands board passes the measure to amend its rule.

Our rating

Forecast the Facts said Walker runs a state government that bans "employees from talking about climate change."

But the group could only name one obscure agency, outside of the governor's jurisdiction, that has such a rule in place. The rule was aimed at barring its workers from doing climate-change work while on state time. And that rule is poised to be amended. Meanwhile, we found plenty of examples where state agencies were discussing climate change.

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Politifact, Group says daughter of Earth Day founder was ordered not to do climate change work on the job, April 10, 2015.  


Phone conversation with Tia Nelson, executive secretary, Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, June 11, 2015.  


Phone conversation and email exchange with Brant Olson, campaign director, Citizen Engagement Laboratory, June 2015.  


Email exchange with Laurel Patrick, press secretary, Gov. Scott Walker.  


Forecast the Facts, #ScottAway the truth, June 2, 2015.  


New York Times, Wisconsin agency bans activism on climate change, April 10, 2015.


Phone conversation with Cullen Werwie, communications director, Department of Administration, June 12, 2015.

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More by Sarah Hauer

Group says Scott Walker bans employees from talking about climate change

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