In a word: Yikes.
* The editorial board cites data showing the Department of Natural Resources under Walker is referring far fewer polluters for prosecution than did predecessors Tommy Thompson and Jim Doyle - - OK, so far- - but then says that's "not inherently a bad thing."
So what's the upside?
The editorial board posits - - but does not document - - that the collaborative relationship the DNR is pursuing with businesses could save money and hasten compliance - - but cites no data to back up that supposition. Note all the qualifiers - - "can mean...perhaps..."
Stepp's (and Walker's) approach is to have DNR employees work with businesses to get them to cooperatively solve whatever problem crops up. That can mean fewer costs for both the business and state taxpayers and, perhaps, quicker compliance.I hope readers across the state who live downwind of a frac sand mine's dust, or within sniffing distance of an expanded mega-dairy's cattle herd runoff, or within well water pumping range of a fuel pipeline break and spill - - details here - - give the paper an earful about its paean to Wisconsin's regulatory softness.
^ This editorial has all the hallmarks of something produced in stages, and that ignored even its environmental reporters solid work from 19 months ago:
I'd written recently on this blog and in the Journal Sentinel's Sunday Crossroads section that Wisconsin waters - - though held in trust for all the people by the State Constitution - - were in crisis from political mismanagement, neglect and downright attack by state government...
The evidence was a string of new laws, proposals and administrative actions serving special interests since Scott Walker took office that removed or weakened protections for ground water, surface water, shorelines, construction sites, wetlands and woodlands that help hold and filter precipitation.
Now comes a stunning story by Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel - - that more than 150 additional state bodies of water are so polluted they will be added to a list of impaired waterways needing fixing - - and that Walker tried unsuccessfully to 'address' the problem by holding up the implementation of state rules aimed at reducing levels of phosphorus run-off - - one of the main pollutants in impaired waterways making the list.* The editorial board is all over the map on iron mining, the environment, and the legislation used "to entice" the mining company to come to Wisconsin:
We feel that legislation opens the door to unnecessary environmental damage. That was not only a mistake, it holds the potential for disaster for northern Wisconsin.Square that with what the editorial board wrote just a few lines earlier in support of the mine:
...we believe such a mine could be built while preserving much of the area's natural beauty and restoring the area after the mine runs dry.
The editorial also omits any mention of the once-secret $700,000 mining company donation routed through a third-party group to the Walker campaign, so who exactly was enticing whom?
* The editorial leaves out any mention of the Walker administration's disregard for Ojibwe treaty rights in the proposed mining region - - which means Walker is teeing up the state for costly and divisive litigation.
How is it that the Walker administration gets kudos from the editorial board for cost-saving collaborating with businesses on environmental matters, but there's no criticism in the editorial for the administration's failure to work closely with the tribes on the mining issue which is already producing acrimony and costly litigating?
Finally, the editorial discusses energy, generally praising Burke on alternatives and criticizing Walker for his PSC appointments, and for obstructing of rail, wind and conservation incentives.
No clear winner here. I know the paper is not making endorsements this go-round, but muddle is not substitute.
I will copy out below the entire section about the DNR and the mining issue and you can decide for yourself if it makes sense to you. And I encourage people to read the piece in its entirety.
Department of Natural Resources: The major criticism of the DNR under Walker from environmentalists is essentially that it's too friendly to business and is reluctant to strongly enforce laws designed to protect the environment.
We think that's an unfair assessment. The approach under Walker and DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp is different but not necessarily weaker.
Yes, the DNR has referred fewer environmental cases to the Department of Justice under Walker: 24 in 2011; 34 in 2012 and 35 last year, according to DNR records. By comparison, in 2000, when Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson was governor, there were 61 cases sent to the attorney general. And during Democrat Jim Doyle's administration, the agency referred an average of 68 cases a year.
But that's not inherently a bad thing. Stepp's (and Walker's) approach is to have DNR employees work with businesses to get them to cooperatively solve whatever problem crops up. That can mean fewer costs for both the business and state taxpayers and, perhaps, quicker compliance. And making it easier for businesses to communicate with government officials, as is now the case, is actually a good thing.
But the DNR has to walk a fine line between cooperation and caving in. There have been a couple of disturbing cases in which the Walker administration appeared to bend over backward to accommodate a business. The DNR still must enforce the laws and make sure the environment is protected. We think for the most part the DNR is meeting that challenge.
Mining: Here we disagree with both candidates. Republicans pushed through legislation making it easier for Gogebic Taconite to build a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Burke says she opposes the proposed mine. But we think the mine could provide needed jobs in a particularly hard-pressed area of the state. And we believe such a mine could be built while preserving much of the area's natural beauty and restoring the area after the mine runs dry.
Where we take issue with Walker is the legislation used to entice the company, much of which was written with the help of the company's lobbyists and lawyers, to build in Wisconsin. We feel that legislation opens the door to unnecessary environmental damage. That was not only a mistake, it holds the potential for disaster for northern Wisconsin.