Monday, August 27, 2007

The Great Lakes Need Protection, And We All Need A Stronger DNR

Clean Wisconsin staff attorney Melissa Malott raises important questions about Murphy Oil's intentions at its refinery on Lake Superior.

Will a six-fold expansion of refining planned there lead to more pollution of Lake Superior?

Given the company's pollution track record that Malott cites in her Wisconsin State Journal Sunday op-ed, the concerns are valid, and they need to be raised and addressed before Murphy Oil is allowed to turn Lake Superior into an industrial dump.

Clean Wisconsin is a Madison-based environmental organization.

In an earlier blog posting, I questioned whether the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will stay passive in the face of the Murphy Oil issue.

It's a fair question, because that's what the DNR did while the rest of the Great Lakes forced British Petroleum to step back from its expansion-related pollution at its Northern Indiana refinery on Lake Michigan.

All in all, and especially with the Great Lakes Compact getting watered down in a state legislative study committee dominated by development interests in fast-growing Waukesha County, it's the right time to ask the DNR to step up and begin managing the state's water resources in the public interest.

The Public Trust Doctrine, embedded in the Wisconsin Constitution and State Supreme Court rulings, requires it, and the DNR needs a refresher course in its mission.

Look no farther than its own webpage on the subject.

There was a recent, swift and relatively unexplained change in DNR Secretaries this summer, with the incumbent Scott Hassett leaving in favor of Corrections Department Secretary Matt Frank.

No offense to Frank, but surely he was not appointed for his environmental credentials.

Talk around the Capitol was that the DNR's regional district operations needed more coordination, and that perhaps the Office of the Secretary and the Governor's Office were not on the same page, so the change could have had more to do with internal operations and communications than the details of public policy, sources suggest.

Maybe they are right, and maybe they are wrong, but this much is pretty clear:

This was a lost opportunity by Gov. Jim Doyle to install a high-profile, environmentally-inclined individual to lead the department.

It strengthens the case for legislation recently introduced into the legislature to return the department to independent status and the secretary's appointment to the Natural Resources Board.

The legislation is bipartisan and enjoys the support of groups including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Wisconsin League of Conservation voters, and also, in detail (2007 priorities, p.21.)

When hearings are scheduled, supporters of a stronger, grassroots-driven DNR - - the one envisioned by Wisconsin's great conservationists - - need to come out in force.

The politicization of the department is one of the more onerous legacies of Tommy Thompson's politics-at-all-costs regime, right up there with his pandering to big business by eliminating the Public Intervenor positions from the Office of the Attorney General.

The Great Lakes and the state's natural environment need firmer stewardship, without government that enables or tolerates the pollution of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior by oil companies.

The Public Trust Doctrine needs to be treated as a mandate, not an option.

In their separate actions, Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation are pointing the way.


Anonymous said...
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Melissa Malott said...

I wanted to add that this $6.2 investment could go SO much farther with renewable technologies. Investing this amount in wind, for example, would yield 3,600 permanent jobs, versus the current Murphy Oil proposal only yielding 400 permanent jobs.

James Rowen said...

Thank you for the comment, Melissa.
The jobs vs. environment dichotomy does not have to be antagonistic, as Melissa points out. BP was suggesting it would create 80 new jobs at its expanded refinery; as Melissa points out, there are more new jobs availabe in new technologies.