Thursday, August 23, 2007

DNR Official Discounts Lake Michigan Pollution Issue: Is Lake Superior Next?

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources finally broke its silence on the controversy surrounding British Petroleum's plan to add pollution of Lake Michigan (the oil company backed off on the issue Thursday in the wake of growing protests in the region, and in Congress) by minimizing the potential threat to the lake posed by three new tons daily of ammonia and sludge.

Oh, you know those environmentalists: Always worrying about adding more toxins to Lake Michigan - - by the ton!

By the so-called 'green' oil company, British Petroleum - - the one who likes to market itself as "BP - - Beyond Petroleum."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published these remarks online Thursday night in advance of Friday's hard copy editions by a senior DNR water policy administrator:

"I haven't seen anything yet where anybody has demonstrated or shown on paper - when you look at the entire lake, or even locally - that there is going to be a problem as a result of this discharge," Bruce Baker, deputy water administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said two days before BP backed off.

"Baker said he was happy people seem to care enough about the health of the lake to be riled, but he wonders if they were they riled by the right thing."

You can read his remarks in their full context, here.

The DNR has had a long, steady loss of credibility since former Gov. Tommy Thompson turned the agency into a political, cabinet-level operation, rather than the formerly independent agency operated by the Natural Resources Board, but Baker's remarks take the cake.

Not to mention the episode a few weeks ago when the DNR told the Journal Sentinel there pretty much was nothing it could do about a major dairy farm's routine fecal runoff into Lake Michigan in Manitowoc County, which left it to the huge dairy's neighbors to cobble together some remedial responses.

And its the DNR that is dancing close to approving a diversion of water from Lake Michigan to the City of New Berlin, despite a warning last December from then-Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager that it did not have the legal authority to do so.

Maybe the reason that the DNR kept quiet during the regional fight with BP was because it sincerely believed it was all much ado about nothing.

Or maybe it's because it knows that the Murphy Oil Company refinery in Superior plans to expand its refining capacity there from 35,000 barrels a day to 235,000 barrels a day (it produces gasoline and asphalt there) as soon as it can find a wealthy partner to help with the expansion.

Does the DNR plan on taking the same "it's-no-big-deal/there's nothing-we-can-do-about-it" stance about any increases in pollutants there, too?

I'll bet there is a bigger stink over a six-fold increase in the scope of a refinery on Lake Superior than the BP uproar over on the Indiana-Illinois border.

That was a state or two away to the south, on the Illinois-Indiana border:

Lake Superior is in the fabled Up North. It's our Big Lake, pristine, mythical, so perhaps more worthy of outraged concern even in the bureaucratic reaches of the DNR not rattled by the thought of more industrial dumping in Lake Michigan.

Thanks to The River Alliance of Wisconsin for beginning to sound the alarm about Murphy's plans for Lake Superior: the company's filing with the DNR is here.

What's needed is leadership from the DNR on the health of the Great Lakes.

Let's see aggressive, public words and deeds from the DNR on behalf of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

Without them, Lautenschlager, now an attorney in private practice in Madison, hit the nail on the head the other day with an op-ed piece in the Capital Times that called the state's silence regarding the BP pollution potential a "do-nothing" policy.


Anonymous said...

Is it your opinion that Lake Superior will be thought of differently also because it is shared with Canada? Sometimes international issues seem larger, and harder to brush off as "just domestic concerns."

Anonymous said...

What's the linkage between Baker's lame comment and the fact that the DNR is a cabinet level agency?

Have you watched the NRB in-action?

They remind you of a village board or worse a school board.

If the NRB was given the right to choose a Sec. the Governor would choose individuals who would select his candidate much like the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission will select the Chief the Mayor of Milwaukee wants.

The only caveat would be that some GOP holdover could have shot down Doyle's choice and forced a WMC approved Sec.