A waste hauler avoids referral by DNR staffers to prosecutors for egregious human waste dumping near wells and farm fields.
Turns out in Walker World if you're in that kind of trouble, it doesn't hurt to know the political appointees he put in charge of the DNR, or a well-connected sitting legislator, too,
Overall, Walker's appointees have systematically turned a blind eye to clean air and water violations.
But it's worse than you can imagine: check out this strong, records-based report by veteran Wisconsin State Journal environmental writer Ron Seely, whose reporting about wrist-slaps for repeated dumping of human waste near drinking water supplies and farm fields condemns the DNR's failings and also makes the case for a special prosecutor:
A top political appointee at the state Department of Natural Resources chose not to send a complaint against an Oconomowoc waste hauler to the Department of Justice for prosecution despite findings by agency staff that the company was treating fields with so much human waste from septic tanks it risked poisoning nearby wells, DNR records show.
Scott Gunderson, executive assistant to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, “made an extra effort” to deal with the complaint internally last year even though the agency’s enforcement staff urged that the case be referred to DOJ, which could have imposed fines of tens of thousands of dollars.
Instead, Gunderson decided to ask district attorneys in Waukesha and Jefferson counties to issue five citations against Herr Environmental and fine the company $4,338 — the minimum forfeiture for the permit violations, which the lead DNR investigator called “among the worst” he’d seen.
Gunderson, a former Republican state representative, received $750 in campaign contributions from the owner of the company, Richard Herr, and Herr’s wife in 2006 and 2008. Last week, Gunderson said he forgot when he agreed to oversee the case that he accepted political contributions from the Herrs, major supporters of Republican campaigns as well as some Democratic candidates. Gunderson said even if he had been aware of the contributions, it would not have influenced his decision.
The case normally would have been assigned to DNR deputy secretary Matt Moroney, who said he handed it to Gunderson because he was acquainted with another officer of Herr Environmental.
But agency records show Moroney, also a political appointee and the former executive director of the Metropolitan Builders of Greater Milwaukee, intervened at least once on behalf of the company prior to his recusal, urging the DNR staff to listen to his friend at Herr Environmental because “he has always been a very straight shooter” and “we all make innocent mistakes.”Innocent mistakes? Seely reports:
According to the staff memorandum requesting referral to the Justice Department, Herr Environmental’s records showed the company may have spread human waste on Jefferson County farm fields in 2009 at three times the levels allowed by its permit.
The fields on which the company spread excessive waste are adjacent to about 30 residences in a rural Jefferson County subdivision as well as five neighboring farms. About 40 drinking water wells are nearby, according to DNR documents.
Wastewater specialist David Bolha, the lead investigator, said he and other agency staff feared potential threats to public health, including possibly dangerous levels of nitrates in wells. Elevated nitrates levels can cause a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants called blue-baby syndrome.
Also, according to the investigation files and citations, the company provided more than 60 inaccurate records after Bolha found inconsistencies in a 2010 inspection. Bolha reported he eventually was provided three sets of records by the company during his inquiry, each with different tallies of acreage and volumes of waste spread, each revised so the company appeared closer to compliance.
And the politicking gets worse:
Instead, Gunderson and other DNR administrators sought to iron out the problem in meetings with Herr and Herr’s state representative, Joel Kleefisch,I've been writing about this crew and their philosophy of "loosened regulation" since January, 2011.
R-Oconomowoc, who interceded on his behalf, records show. At one meeting, on Dec. 13, Herr said he spoke with Stepp who assured him “no citations or forfeitures would be required,” according to Bolha’s notes.
Stepp, who declined several requests to be interviewed for this story, denied in an email she made such a claim to Herr. Asked if she knew Herr or had business dealings with him in the past, or if she spoke with him at all during the enforcement case, Stepp responded, “All are ‘no’ answers.”
Herr also did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.
At a second meeting, on Dec. 20, Kleefisch — who also received $100 in campaign donations from Herr and whose wife Rebecca received $2,250 from the Herr family during her campaign for lieutenant governor — challenged Gunderson to reconsider the citations the DNR was weighing against Herr.
“In the age of the DNR/Wisconsin Governor being pro-business, why is the DNR giving Herr 5 citations and why can’t 2 or 3 be taken away as a show of good faith?” Joel Kleefisch asked, according to Bolha’s notes of the meeting.