Friday, February 12, 2016

Beware the penny-pinching WI, MI governors

Another thing that the GOP/tea party governors of Wisconsin and Michigan have in common right now is a scandal where a predominately minority population - - including children - - under these governors' authority and philosoph paid a terrible price.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration provided the low-income and heavily-minority people of Flint with cut-rate water that has lead-poisoned the community. Kids' development is most at risk.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker merged two SE Wisconsin state facilities for juvenile offenders into one state Department of Corrections unit far up North from Milwaukee and Racine where so many of the young people were living - - all to save money, the Racine Journal Times reported - - but where some of young people have been brutalized while under state control.

Walker was told about the situation in 2012 by a Racine County judge; a Friday news dump about Walker's withholding news of the DOC chief's resignation last week an FBI probe unfolds is part of the horrifying story laid out in today's Journal Sentinel.

What ugly social experimentation to save some money,

About Lambeau Field hosting UW-LSU in September

Fun for the fans and players, this Green Bay scheduling of a UW-Madison non-conference football game, but let's remember college sports is big business - -
- - so the venue change produces a heckuva revenue transfer by 80,000-some ticket holders away from Camp Randall, Madison and Dane County hotels, restaurants, bars, gas stations, car rental agencies, souvenir sales, etc.

Another message to Madison that it should take nothing for granted from the state these days.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

WI Legislature to cut millions from energy conservation

Wisconsin's tax collections are a budgetary disappointment - - no surprise, given years of Walker's ideological tax cuts and his failed job creation programs - - so how does the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee respond when Walker tells them to make millions in new budget cuts? 

By removing some funding that helps people reduce energy through a popular energy conservation program, along with some deregulatory sops to utilities, too:

  • Cut the Focus on Energy program by about $7 million per year. That bill would also eliminate the requirement that major energy utilities submit an annual plan for complying with sulfur dioxide emission rates to the state Public Service Commission and Department of Natural Resources.
Focus on Energy has added hundreds of millions of dollars to the state economy and created about 2,000 jobs in recent years, as the program just reported, but this administration has consistently obstructed wind and solar initiatives, so here we go again.

Wisconsin ripe for progressive debate focus tonight

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, vying for the right to run and serve as America's Progressive-in-Chief, could not have been scheduled into a better spot than Wisconsin for a two-hour debate on PBS/CNN tonight beginning at 8 p.m. central time.

That's because Wisconsin, where the Progressive Party was founded, and where many humane and socially-sensitive national programs were born, has been for the last five years a soulless, self-interested special-interest lobby run by enablers atop all three branches of state government who are opposing, restricting, or blocking ballot box access, student loan debt relief, cleaner air and waterways, local government authority, minimum wage increases, climate change action or awareness, collective bargaining, union representation and other workplace protections, solar and wind power installations, Amtrak and other transit services, groundwater preservation and purity,  environmental science, full K-12 and higher education funding, women's medical and reproductive care, Medicaid expansion and access to Obamacare, food stamp eligibility and working family tax credits, to name a few.

Tonight, more than ever - - On, Progressive Wisconsin 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

WI GOP lawmaker channels Joe McCarthy, South Park maybe

The same Waukesha County GOP assemblyman who has gone to war against traffic roundabouts, independent state auditors and district court judges who issue pesky injunctions against bad bills has a zany new brainstorm:

Let state legislators go all Posse Comitatus on prosecutors and arrest them, then compel them and others to testify (confess?) before a new legislative committee-cum-star-chamber (welcome back, Joe McCarthy; long time, no see) and, for good measure, take custody of Walker-related John Doe records for safe-keeping (that'll work, since no one in the Legislature has ever leaked anything, right?).

Talk about a bill that needs an instant injunction.

WI's ruling party disinterest in homeless, hungry suburban kids

The Wisconsin Republican Legislative majority, while busy boosting legislators' expense accounts, or finding new ways to shovel tax favors to the wealthy, or new millions in public dollars to favored, insider special interests, refuses to acknowledge, let alone feed the growing number of hungry, homeless children in their suburban districts, according to an investigation by New Berlin Now:
The Now probe examined five school districts in the suburbs southwest of Milwaukee: West Allis-West Milwaukee, Whitnall, Greenfield, New Berlin and Muskego. The conclusion is that affluent suburban schools in Waukesha County are experiencing what their urban counterparts have dealt with for years: expanding numbers of hungry and even homeless children in classrooms.
No doubt because, as GOP Assembly Majority Leader Robin Vos recently observed, a statewide standard "every once in a while" is a good idea.

In politically-degraded WI, local democracy a punchline

This blog has tried to keep up with the many restrictions on local government and grassroots decision-making which Walker and The Authoritarians have adopted since 2011 - - here's a golden-oldie back to the beginning - - but now the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has helpfully released a full count - - 99 to date, with another 21 pending, including more of those pass-the-buck unfunded spending mandates laid down on local taxpayers already squeezed by state-imposed fiscal limits and resulting service restrictions.

In 2014, the total was 64, so the local control haters have been busy.

Also pending: letting out-of-state corporations buy your local water and sewer utility, adding a profit for investors and shareholders to your bill.

Robin Vos, the GOP Assembly Majority Leader and key architect of State Capitol intrusion into everything once-upon-a-time local from preserving a pristine watershed and miles of hills near lake Superior to public employe contract negotiations to zoning & development to highway contracting to the distance from your borders which police officers and fire fighters may live says it's OK to have a statewide standard "once in a while."

In top-down, one-party ruled Wisconsin these days, local democracy is little more than a punchline.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

River Alliance of WI suggests pro-public water calls, now

As the water giveaway bills move through the Wisconsin Legislature, there is some timely advice from the River Alliance of Wisconsin:
Call your Assembly representative and say "no" to leaving our groundwater open to exploitation. 
Two bills -- AB 477 and AB 874 -- were pretty much written by agricultural interests.  They don't like one (477), but they really want 874.  We oppose both.
  • AB 477 proposes a process for creating "sensitive resource areas" (SRAs) to analyze groundwater use and develop management schemes to balance its use so pumping doesn't harm surface waters.  The process is cumbersome, with several political trap doors set up for an SRA to fall through.  An SRA will likely never become reality under this bill.
  • AB 874 proposes to make it easier for people who have permits to operate a high-capacity well without having that well ever scrutinized if it changes hands.  Many believe it creates a "water right," of the kind Wisconsin law has historically avoided. 
Here's your message:  "I oppose these groundwater bills because they give green lights for excessive water use by agriculture and other industries, and ignores the rights of everyone else to use or own property on the waters affected by industrial uses." 
If you would like to testify in person, you can: these bills have a hearing on Wednesday, February 10, at 11:00 a.m. in the North Hearing Room- 2nd Floor North.  While it's great to show up in person, your direct contact to your Assembly rep by email or phone count just as much (and parking is easier). 
Don't know your state representative or senator?  Find them here  

WI legislators pass fix-the-roads buck to county-level taxpayers

Love the headline describing the latest interation of WI GOP cowardice-in-action:
UPDATE: State Assembly to give counties an opportunity to raise more revenue for roads

WI legislature sticks it to the general public again

Wisconsin's GOP state legislative corporate servants   - - not content with throwing an end-of-session special-interest land and water buffet that lets out-of-state private-sector companies buy municipal water and sewer utilities, and allows developers to build on more wetlands and shorelines and publicly-owned dry lake beds - - have found yet another way to give public resources to their benefactors.

This downright Orwellian giveaway allows property owners to keep more of their land closed to the public after opening the so called managed forest land to hiking or hunting that produced the justification for the tax break in the first place.

So first the land was opened for public access, hence the tax break. Quid pro quo.

Now the land and even more-acres-per-property-owner can be closed.

Now you see the access - - now you don't - - hocus-pocus - - but you still are in line to make up the tax collection shortfall, Bucky. You sap.

Noted here last week.

The supposed bit of balance and 'fairness' in the measure racing to final approval today is that there is some reduction in the per-acre tax break the owners receive, but they still get a nice subsidy while keeping people off the land which was supposed to be open for their enjoyment.

Side note:

The effort likely to get final Legislative approval in the State Senate today is led by some of the same legislators who pushed through the sweetheart open-pit iron mining bill a couple of years ago that would have cratered and spoiled the Penokee Hills' Bad River watershed and then tried to close off some these bordering, state-subsidized so-called 'managed forest lands' nearby while various mining tests and surveys were conducted.

On, Wisconsin?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Rail for NW WI on track, thanks to MN

Killed by Walker in 2011 to please the road-builders, puff up his anti-Obama resume and presidential fantasies, and deny to Jim Doyle a legacy achievement, passenger rail serving Wisconsin residents is finally getting a boost - - from the more forward-thinking State of Minnesota.

Because the plan will require a contribution from Wisconsin, and, to date, Walker prefers spending new state funds on freight lines carrying frac sand, for example ($52 million in the 2013-'15 budget), it's a good strategy - - though completely unfair to transit users - - that train planning in NW Wisconsin is looking for private investment while road spending is a routine public expense.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Wi spreads the manure, along with multiple public risks

We've all read the stories: The stop sign or light at a dangerous intersection is put in after the tragic collision - - despite pleas and warnings to officials who were too busy or had other, urgency-free priorities.

And yet the situation is even riskier in Wisconsin on so many fronts these days, as some of the metaphorical stop signs and red lights already in place are being removed for ideological or special-interest driven partisan advantage by the Governor and Legislature, making 'accidents-waiting-to-happen' - - actually predictable events- -  potentially more painful.

Such is the likely and totally unnecessary outcome because of the intentional unraveling of state water law, and in related and counter-productive cuts to DNR staffing, science and pollution enforcement  - - laws and standards and personnel and goals put in place as traditional and bi-partisan measures to ensure the quality and availability of shared, publicly-owned waters and forested or recreational land.

These laws and standards and operations essential to a democratic society were in the law and on the job because the state's waters - - meaning the people's waters - - are life-giving through their connectivity; allowing and expanding wetland filling (despite all the benefits) - -  waterway dredging, groundwater pumping and valuable state land selling en masse - - without regard for downstream, cumulative impacts and repercussions to the public interest - - is just plan crazy.

As is the plan which has just zipped through the Assembly and is poised for Senate approval this month to allow out-of-state businesses to buy or lease Wisconsin municipal water and sewer systems with minimal scrutiny.

Current law allows such sales or leases, but only to in-state firms, and after referendums which include the financial terms of the transfer- - processes and policies designed to keep the systems' management and staffing and decision-making as local and accountable to the people as possible.

Call those requirements the stop signs or red lights now reasonably in place - - but the powers that be in and around the State Capitol are willing to let outsiders beholden to profit-focused investors call the shots and make the decisions without having first been required to give an affected community basic system sale or lease financial information in a timely fashion prior to the all-important referendum.

By the same token, we are putting Wisconsin people and the environment at risk by barely staffing freight rail line inspections by workers not in the employ of the companies that set the schedules and own the tracks which run through and over our cities, towns, villages, farms and waters.

There is one such person working full-time for the people statewide while shipments of volatile shale crude oil have been substantially ramped up, and after several events which derailed tanker cars and even spilled hazardous materials in the last few months.

Luckily, the state, and communities in Wisconsin, and close to the WI-MN, and WI-IL border were spared flaming, toxifying catastrophe.

When he was still state railroad commissioner, Jeff Plale told me last year that he'd requested a second full-time rail inspector in the budget eventually adopted in 2015, but instead got a limited-term employee added for part of the year - - akin to addressing a known traffic hazard with a flashing caution light blinking some of the time, instead of a full stop-and-go signal.

And why are our elected officials so continuously assigning danger, deprivation of rights and denial of access to basic, public resources when it comes to controlling or preventing groundwater pollution and manure spreading at and near expanded livestock operations, too - -
when those same officials have the ability to affirmatively put public healthy and safety first?

There's something foul about a democracy in which private benefits are enhanced for the few by socializing the risks at the grassroots.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Q. Can a state jump the shark? A. WI says...

Yes! And now you know so you don't have to take a stab at it:
Walker to sign bill legalizing concealed switchblades

Feds should ensure clean drinking water in Dairyland WI

Kewaunee County farmer and clean water advocate Nancy Utesch has written a powerful op-ed about the persistent and hazardous contamination of well water in that heavily-agricultural NE Wisconsin County. It's definitely worth a read, here.
Thirty-four percent of the tested wells in Kewaunee are contaminated with E. coli, high nitrates, or both. In 2014, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher equated well water samples he had tested in the town of Lincoln to what one would expect to find in a Third World country.
She and others through the grassroots organization Kewaunee Cares - - mentioned more than once on this blog - - have been fighting this battle with people in the Central Sands area and groups statewide for the basic right to clean water - - for years.

Regrettably, it may take the drinking water catastrophe in Flint, MI to fully alert the state and nation to serious but fixable water pollution in Wisconsin, too

And that the problem has been known and documented for years  - - along with a troubling bigger picture - - with government and industry dragging their feet, as Utesch notes.

Wisconsin is proud of being the Dairy State, but that should not mean that people who live near these industrial-scale operations that the Walker administration is allowing to expand in their era of de-regulation - - with a massive pig farm on the way close to Lake Superior, too - - should have to pay such a high, public health and safety penalty.

And bear the legal costs for remedies which the state, for political reasons, has obstructed.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has already written Wisconsin up for dozens of dismissals of responsibility under the Clean Water Act: federal intervention is long overdue on beheld of Wisconsin residents who leave near large-scale agricultural operations and the chemical and manure byproducts they have left behind.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

After water giveaways & land sales, WI GOP finds one new forest issue

Yes, Wisconsin Republicans are busy using lawmaking and state agencies policy-making to direct government to dredge waterways, enable groundwater contamination, develop shorelines, fill wetlands, and sell public land and even drinking water systems - - but fear not: they've finally found even more to agree upon about the way people and the outdoors can interact:
Scott Walker signs bill allowing fluorescent pink for hunters

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Something old, something new about lax WI water regs

This detailed scientific report is definitely worth your time, given all the attention of late about water quality in Wisconsin and Michigan:
But more than differences in geography and chemistry drive the varied practices of Wisconsin’s public water utilities. Their actions also hinge on their financial and staff resources, local politics, differing attitudes toward science among the public and municipal leaders, and knowledge gaps about drinking water contaminants and their impacts on human health. One can gain some perspective on the discrepancies in how Wisconsin utilities treat drinking water through the ongoing tales of two contaminant types: pathogens and lead.
Disinfection Highlights Old Attitudes, Emerging Knowledge
Wisconsin doesn't require utilities to disinfect their water to eliminate pathogens, though federal regulations do require those using surface water to disinfect. In 2009, the DNR began promoting new state regulations to require universal disinfection, but Wisconsin's Republican-led state Legislature struck those rules down in 2011. The 56 municipal water utilities in Wisconsin that do not disinfect their water serve just more than 1 percent of the state's population, almost 65,000 people.
Most are small rural water utilities in northwest Wisconsin, covering only a few hundred people each. But this list does include some larger municipalities, like Rice Lake (about 8,300 people), likewise in the northwest portion of the state, and Kewaskum (about 4,000), north of the Milwaukee area. While most of these utilities are on record as conducting no water treatment at all, they're not all alike in their approach: A few have disinfected their water at points in the past, and some engage in other treatment processes, including fluoridation, corrosion control, and iron and manganese removal.
The disinfection rollback noted on this blog five years ago:
Right now, about 12% of Wisconsin municipal systems do not continuously disinfect, says the DNR, which has had the nerve, along with the previous Legislature, of applyingscience to rule-making. 
And The who-cares-what's-in-the-water coalition is looking for co-sponsors (note Erik Severson, a new State Rep. from Osceola, is a physician), while Harsdorf is on Joint Finance.  There's you new GOP at work. 
As they say in their legislative email:
DATE:        January 27, 2011
TO:            Legislative Colleagues
FROM:       Senators Sheila Harsdorf
                 Representative Erik Severson
RE:Co-sponsorship of LRB-0937, relating to disinfection of municipal water supplies. 
We will be introducing LRB-0937 which seeks to prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from mandating continuous disinfection of municipal water supplies.  
Last summer, the DNR promulgated a rule that made several changes to state regulations relating to water.  Some of these changes were required by the federal government; however, the DNR went beyond federal requirements in a provision relating to municipal water disinfection. 
This change is a new mandate on municipalities requiring continuous disinfection of their water supply. Approximately 70 municipalities across the state currently do not continuously disinfect their water and are impacted by this rule. 
This mandate imposes a significant cost on municipalities.  One community cited a price tag of $2.9 million for complying with this mandate, which is several times larger than the community’s annual budget.  
Despite having a good record for providing a quality water supply, this municipality is facing a significant capital project to comply with the new DNR rule by December 2013. 
This bill would prohibit the DNR from requiring municipal water systems to provide continuous disinfection, unless federal law requires continuous disinfection in the future. 
If you would like to co-sponsor this legislation, please respond to this e-mail or call Sen. Harsdorf office at 6-7745 or Rep. Severson’s office at 7-2365 by February 9th.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Another WI GOP move against water access, quality

No surprise.
On a party-line vote, the majority Republicans on the Committee on Environment and Forestry approved AB 600, a far-reaching proposal aimed at strengthening the rights of waterfront property owners and developers who want to build on wetlands.
Information about this bill's ideological cousins, and a sampling of related issues:


New WI GOP ploy to allow high-flow wells: let AG decide

No, Bucky, you haven't seen all the legislative and administrative tricks employed by special-interest water carriers in Wisconsin's corporatized government to help businesses grab public resources:

Legislators now want to turn the complex environmental and science question of when so-called high-capacity wells can be drilled by large farms, expanding dairies, gigantic pig farms, sprawling frac sand mines, and the like over to one of Big Business's Biggest Wisconsin Friends - - GOP Attorney General and clean-air-and-water fighter Brad Schimel.

For advice that will stick

For real.

Smokestack emissions damage the air, and water, too

When you read that states like Wisconsin are suing to stop new power plant smokestack emission rules - - thus willing to tolerate the release of harmful greenhouse gas emissions - - keep in mind that means more than citizens breathing dirty, unhealthy air as a matter of policy.

Great Lakes researchers are saying that those same greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating toxic algal blooms and waterway 'dead zones', damaging drinking water quality, and threatening a world-class fishery:

The number of severe algal blooms in Lake Erie will likely double during the next century, according to new research from The Ohio State University. 
Although fertilizers from farms played a major part in last year’s record-breaking algae bloom in Lake Erie, climate change is also a driver, reported Noel Aloysius of Ohio State and Hans Paerl of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill... 
Moreover, power plants help create conditions that are conducive for algal blooms, researchers say. 
Ohio is one of the states fighting the cleaner air rules.

Separately, Ohio also has the country's most polluted river for the 7th year in a row, with ag and fertilizer sources major contributors, this report says.

Remember that Lake Michigan has its own large, polluted 'dead zone' near Green Bay, but Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources refuses, as I wrote last year, to take any initiative to combat it:
The dead zone in Green Bay's waters is caused by phosphorus from dairy herd runoff and other sources, and yes, its origins began before Scott Walker put his  "chamber-of-commerce mentality" atop the DNR to serve corporate interests and donors.
But they've worked hard to create and manipulate a dead zone in the agency by doing with the phosphorous threat what they have done with other forces menacing the state's waters, wetlands and environment: 
As little as possible, as the Journal Sentinel notes: New regulations will not be coming from state regulators, said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.
 ...When it comes to Green Bay's expanding stagnation, our do-as-little-as-it-can DNR more and bigger industrial-scale dairy operations and farm fertilizing through airborne manure spraying. 
All of which adds contaminates that get into the very rivers, streams and lakes which the DNR is supposed to manage in the public interest on a trust basis for the people. 
Add to this mess the culpability of the GOP-led Legislature, also doing Walker's bidding, which took an existing  phosphorous control and reduction plan hammered out with business sector participation, and implemented in 2009 and intentionally weakened it last year by granting to some big phosphorous dischargers another twenty years to comply.
Wisconsin has long-delayed complying with multiple responsibilities under the US Clean Water Act, and subsequent events indicate continuing and fresh disinterest in preventing or solving these problems:

The DNR recently refused to implement a judge's order following a lengthy hearing to limit the number of manure-producing cattle at a large dairy cattle operation.
*  Though such so-called CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, can pollute nearby wells, and measurable contamination of harmful nitrates is increasing statewide. 
* And the bigger picture is no better: the state has 700 impaired waterways by the agency's own count and in 2014 added dozens more to the list; paradoxically, the DNR is currently reviewing whether a major Walker donor can build an 18-hole golf course on 247 acres of forested, wetland-laden land at the edge of Lake Michigan near Sheboygan through which runs The Black River, one of those impaired waterways.  
Opponents of the project's groundwater demands, deforestation, and planned incursion into an adjoining state park recently told the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - to which the DNR reports - - that test wells were drilled on the site without permits, among other concerns 
See and hear the opponents' ten-minute presentation beginning at the meeting's 2:21 mark, followed by about five minutes of Q & A.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Long-term WI sand deal shows out-of-state firms' clout

The long-term impact of sand mining on Wisconsin's environment wrought by faraway forces brings to mind Bob Dylan's "Only a pawn in their game" song title and lyric:
...a frac sand company in Wisconsin has purchased an estimated 94 million tons worth of sand reserves in Jackson County. 
Texas-based Superior Silica Sands has finalized the agreement with Performance Technology, an Oklahoma company that had previously held the property, leases and permits for the reserves. Superior Silica CEO Rick Shearer said they'll mine the sand and sell it back to Performance — which specializes pumping the high pressure mixture of sand, water and chemicals into oil and gas wells — at a discount rate once the market recovers. 
Plenty more information, here.

Wisconsin towns are taking strong stands to protect themselves against sand mining as state controls have given way to watered-down laws and disinterested, ideologically-motivated (even absent) DNR oversight.

A frac sand company in Barron County hoping to mine sand below the groundwater table was rebuffed by a local town board... 
The state Department of Natural Resources doesn’t prohibit the practice, nor do some counties. 
Frac sand, like iron ore in NW Wisconsin and the Lake Superior watershed-cum-massive-pig farm and now municipal water and sewer systems statewide is one of several Wisconsin resources enabled by our corporatized state government and targeted for exploitation for outsiders' private gain.

Our commonly-held resources are up for sale without our permission, in a rigged game.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

WI's eased environmental regulation invites water privatization

[Updated] Defenders of the fast-tracked plan to enable out-of-state private companies to buy or lease publicly-owned water and sewerage systems in Wisconsin are saying that nothing negative would result from such takeovers because state regulatory agencies would continue their environmental, rate-setting and other public-interest missions.

So said the measure's lead Assembly sponsor:

The legislation was introduced at the request of a private water and sewer corporation based in Pennsylvania that may wish to acquire water utilities here, said Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, the proposal’s lead author. 
August said he was surprised by opposition because the state would continue to regulate water quality, sewage discharges and rates paid by customers for private systems just as it does for public ones.
Well - - let's take a look at the current direction and priorities of the state's water and utility regulators  - - the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission - - and see how their historic missions have been intentionally weakened in favor of corporate interests since Scott Walker was elected in 2011, and has governed with a nearly-unbroken string of ideological, pro-business majorities in the Legislature.

* Walker signed a bill in front of cheering realtors that eased wetlands protections, and he's just appointed a realtor and campaign contributor as chairman of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - the DNR's oversight, policy-guiding body - - as wetlands' replacement work continues to lag.

The Realtors are also key players at and on behalf of the rightwing State Supreme Court majority.

* In 2011, Walker also immediately installed a harsh DNR critic as agency secretary because she had what he called a "chamber of commerce mentality," then filled out the leadership team with more veterans from major business and trade associations and more recently deeply cut agency scientists from the department budget.

*  Little wonder that Wisconsin polluters have gotten tiny fines and other preferential treatment as DNR inspections and enforcement actions fell, records show. Not to worry, said the agency's senior managers - - it's all a matter of philosophy.

Which has its consequences:

With the help of powerful private sector interests, Walker and the legislature substantially weakened an important waterway protection effort - - the state's algae control and phosphorus pollution prevention program - - which had taken years of collaborative effort to craft and implement.

* The DNR recently refused to implement a judge's order following a lengthy hearing to limit the number of manure-producing cattle at a large dairy cattle operation.

*  Though such so-called CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, can pollute nearby wells, and measurable contamination of harmful nitrates is increasing statewide.

* And the bigger picture is no better: the state has 700 impaired waterways by the agency's own count and in 2014 added dozens more to the list; paradoxically, the DNR is currently reviewing whether a major Walker donor can build an 18-hole golf course on 247 acres of forested, wetland-laden land at the edge of Lake Michigan near Sheboygan through which runs The Black River, one of those impaired waterways. 

Opponents of the project's groundwater demands, deforestation, and planned incursion into an adjoining state park recently told the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - to which the DNR reports - - that test wells were drilled on the site without permits, among other concerns.

See and hear the opponents' ten-minute presentation beginning at the meeting's 2:21 mark, followed by about five minutes of Q & A.

* Separately, the DNR oversight board has put off a decision on whether to approve a controversial, separate state land sale involving another major Walker donor.

*  The DNR has gotten "a rare rebuke" from the US Environmental Protection Administration over multiple failures to enforce the US Clean Water Act, forcing Wisconsin citizens to petition the US EPA for intervention and relief that is the state's responsibility to guarantee.

And over at the Public Service Commission? Pretty much the same 'philosophy.'

* As he did with the DNR, Walker quickly loaded up the Commission with corporatist allies and private-sector staffers.

That trend has continued; one recent senior PSC staff appointment went to a lobbyist who previously worked for the mining firm which lost a bid to dynamite the Penokee Hills and dig miles of deep open-pit iron mines in the pristine Bad River watershed near Lake Superior in northwest Wisconsin.

* Little wonder that the agency is road-blocking wind and solar innovations in favor of fossil-fuel options and special interests.

* Or that the agency is a key player in the state's litigation against new federal clean air rules even though smokestack pollution fouls the air and the waters below.

Those are our tax dollars being spent on that 'philosophy,' folks.

And why local preservationists, from Sheboygan to Kewaunee near the big CAFO to Bayfield County are taking initiatives which, in another era, would have been the supportive role of the DNR, rather than that of obstructor.

So you're dreaming if you think these agencies' political appointees and managers in the right-wing machine running the state these days will be vigilant defenders of the public interest should out-of-state businesses driven by profit for investors and dividends to shareholders begin buying or leasing Wisconsin water and sewerage utilities.

Corporate win: WI set to sell local public water systems

[Updated 1/28/16, 11:45 a.m., from 1/27/16, 7:17 p.m. Further updated 12:24 a.m. 1/29/16, 1/31/16, 1:06 a.m. and 2/7, 5:55 p.m.]

Bizarre and damning enough that Wisconsin is tolerating well water pollution, but now right-wing ideologues at the State Capitol are about to intentionally commit yet another FUBAR when it comes to undermining drinking water safety: 

The corporate-obeisant GOP-controlled Wisconsin State Senate is poised in committee Thursday to join the Assembly's shameful initiative and enable local governments to sell their water systems to out-of-state, private-sector businesses, proving that Bucky has learned nothing from Flint's water travails, and the consequences of losing control of its drinking water system and supply and flushing it down the drain.

Key language from the bill text:
The bill applies to the proposed sale or lease of a municipal water or sewer utility and does not affect proposals involving other types of utilities. Also, the bill applies only to sales or leases to investor-owned public utilities. Under the bill, a referendum on the proposed sale or lease is not required unless, within 30 days after the municipality adopts the ordinance or resolution required under current law, a petition requesting the referendum is filed with the municipal clerk. The petition must be signed by a number of the municipality's qualified electors that is at least 25 percent of the votes cast in the municipality for governor in the last general election. If a petition is not filed within that deadline, no referendum is required and the municipality must submit the proposal to the PSC. If a referendum is held due to the filing of a petition within the deadline and a majority approves the proposal, the municipality must submit the proposal to the PSC for approval.
And you need a wider lens to see the updated, bigger picture here and then, also, here.

Sunday update - - The Wisconsin League of Conservation voters has weighed in with a strong statement in opposition, as has Clean Wisconsin, and others.

Saturday update - - The bill was written at the request of a Pennsylvania company which already controls 200 systems in eight states, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Friday update - - Note these details in this Wisconsin State Journal report:
The proposal, scheduled for a vote in a state Senate committee Thursday, would make a public referendum on the sale of water and sewage disposal systems optional instead of mandatory as is currently the case.
And if residents gathered enough signatures to force a vote, it would take place before the terms and conditions of a sale are known...
The legislation was introduced at the request of a private water and sewer corporation based in Pennsylvania that may wish to acquire water utilities here, said Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, the proposal’s lead author.
An excellent analysis here, and a big national picture story here, and more from Milwaukee Riverkeeper, here:
Access to critical water services, such as clean drinking water and effective sewer systems, are at risk as private companies vie for control over our public water supplies. AB 554/SB 432 makes it possible for communities to transfer water utility management from the public sector to the private sector, which means out-of-state and potentially multi-national companies will assume control of our public water supplies with less oversight. 
Water privatization most often leads to declining quality of service, higher water rates, less accountability and oversight (private companies do not face elections or have to share information), and a loss of public sector jobs.
Not just across the country, but across the entire globe, water privatization has failed to increase the access to or quality of water supplies for communities time and time again. AB 554/SB 432 is now threatening to do the same in Wisconsin.
For more information on water privatization, check out the website from Food and Water Watch’s Water Privatization: Facts and Figures.
And remember the financial disasters when parking and road tolls were privatized in the midwest by wrong-headed politicians who left taxpayers with even bigger bills. 

Beware the siren song...including the notion that the WI DNR would be a strong monitor, which right now is a joke.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Privatizing WI water utilities ripped in Door County media

One of the most respected environmental voices in NE Wisconsin takes his State Senator (Frank Lasee) to task for the water system privatization measure speeding through the Wisconsin Legislature.
With all the concern over under-funded infrastructure needs and the need for improvement after years of neglect, the public should still maintain control of their own water supplies and bear the costs of needed improvement. There would be no cost saving to pay a non-public entity (corporation) a profit margin to More about the above the cost of public ownership
More about the long-time Door County activist calling out Lasee, here.

Lasee, a leading legislative opponent of wind power, has also supported drilling for oil and gas beneath Lake Michigan, is sponsoring a bill to ease restrictions against nuclear power plant construction in Wisconsin and backs legislation to broadly roll back environmental protection statewide.

Also find more details about the water systems' sales in an item leading this blog since Thursday, here:
Bizarre and damning enough that Wisconsin is tolerating well water pollution, but now right-wing ideologues at the State Capitol are about to intentionally commit yet another FUBAR when it comes to undermining drinking water safety:  
The corporate-obeisant GOP-controlled Wisconsin State Senate is poised in committee Thursday to join the Assembly's shameful initiative and enable local governments to sell their water systems to out-of-state, private-sector businesses, proving that Bucky has learned nothing from Flint's water travails, and the consequences of losing control of its drinking water system and supply and flushing it down the drain.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Walker's DNR failing to complete 2011 clean water directives

You may remember that the US EPA told the Walker administration almost five years ago that there were scores of clean water compliance failings in Wisconsin, but officials in our regulation-averse/corporation servicing state say they still need another year-and-a-half to finish fixing what's broken.

Which is why Wisconsin citizens are filing formal petitions over these issues with the EPA - and taking strong local stands against state inaction - - and why continuing and politically-inspired disregard for clean water in Wisconsin regardless of the federal intervention is becoming the norm here.

Here's what some of this looks like:
    Phosphorus pollution leads to waterway choking algae