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.
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.