Over the years, thanks to a friend inside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, I have had more than enough information about David and Paul Olsen. Not only did their ethanol production dream become a bust, but worse still the Olsen brothers had run afoul of state regulations. The Olsen brothers worked over-time to deny any wrong-doing but ended up paying large fines to the state for the conduct they had engaged in.
So the news this weekend concerning David and Paul Olsen was no earth-shaking moment, but instead something that everyone knew was coming at some point.
The Oshkosh Northwestern reports that brothers David and Paul Olsen owe cash to the state, attorneys, banks and relatives. (The Wisconsin State Journal reports the Olsen brothers even owe money to their mom!) They pioneered ethanol production in Wisconsin, but ran into financial woes when the price of ethanol went down and corn prices rose.
Their ethanol plant filed for bankruptcy in 2009 – just two years after it opened in Jefferson. Now, the brothers are filing for personal bankruptcy, the Northwestern reports.
The fact is that this ethanol boondoggle operation and the forces that tried to make it work were all on public display for years. Even tough-minded conservatives back in early 2009 were calling this for what it was.
The Olsens are rather notorious in central Wisconsin. Their company pleaded
guilty to a federal felony for falsifying data in a pollution probe. At least
six of their firms have received sanctions or are accused of stiffing creditors.
One of the companies has been hit with two separate $75,000 DNR pollution fines.
Their pet political hack is the disappointing Bob Welch, the former Republican
legislator who decided to become a political insider after losing a U.S. Senate
bid. Welch, who represented the district now held by Luther Olsen, ran the state
ethanol association and pushed for all the subsidies and mandates. There was a
time Bob Welch was a sincere guy, but there’s something about ethanol that
brings out the worst in every politician.
Bob Welch’s involvement in the Olsen brother deal making group never surprised me. I was never surprised that Bob Welch was not able to make the ethanol pig fly. It does however underscore what I have always known about Welch, and alerted the readers of the Waushara Argus, my hometown newspaper, about for years when Welch served in the State Legislature. Bob Welch was always more partisan-minded than intellectually capable.
State Senator Luther Olsen came under attack for his involvement in the ethanol mess too, and it seems this weekend’s headlines will not carry favor with voters in his upcoming recall election.
Here’s the background. When Gov. Jim Doyle and the state Legislature were
whoring out to the ethanol interests, they not only pushed for state mandates
for ethanol use but gave tax breaks to developers who wanted to build ethanol
plants. The prime spots at the feeding trough were held by central Wisconsin’s
ethanol hustler, Paul Olsen, and his brother, Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen
of Ripon. The subsidies resulted in massive overbuilding of ethanol plants – a
major problem since the only demand for ethanol comes from the mandates. No sane
motorists want the watered-down corn mash in their car.
And who pushed the hardest for these mandates? None other than Paul Olsen’s
brother Luther. Talk about conflicts of interest. The biggest legislative backer
for mandating the use of ethanol was a guy whose family owns a major ethanol
What might be the harshest news of all is that the Olsen brothers owe their mother money. So at the end of a long hard day of legal woes and financial shortcomings there may not even be a hot cup of coffee and slice of pie at the old homestead for these brothers.
But there is always a pipe dream to recall with fondness, and the days when flouting state regulations brought smiles and laughs and visions of grain bins full of cash.