While grappling with news about fast-tracked bills "streamlined" procedures to hand over Wisconsin lands and water to private interests, you'd do well to read Atty. Jodi Habush Sinykin's 2004 law review essay about the impact of the elimination of the Wisconsin Public Intervenor's Office by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
The office had been part of the Department of Justice office dating to 1967 and the administration of Republican Gov. Warren Knowles.
But corporate Wisconsin hated the way then-Attorney General Jim Doyle, (D), was managing the Public Intervenor function, so Tommy used the state budget to mortally wound it.
That action was the low water mark of Tommy's service to the same corporate interests who now are managing the DNR, and who are pushing for and would benefit from Scott Walker's fast-tracked mining bill and his broader efforts to upend 224 years of Constitutional protections for the state's waters.
Given the Walker agenda, Habush was prescient:
This Essay demonstrates that the demise of the Public Intervenor's Office has left Wisconsin's environment and many Wisconsin citizens in a vulnerable position. Without the Public Intervenor Office's advocacy efforts, the right of Wisconsin citizens to an accountable government has been placed in jeopardy.And when you read that all the mining and water de-regulation bills will do is "streamline" what's on the books now, you might save this reminder from Habush:
Citizens have had to go it alone in their efforts to oppose special interest provisions hidden within state budget bills, and without the checks and balances provided by the watchdog Intervenor's Office, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources ("DNR") has demonstrated significant shortcomings in the enforcement of state and federal environmental laws.
Furthermore, the Public Intervenor's ability to provide top-notch scientific, technical, and legal expertise has been sorely missed in matters of environmental importance to Wisconsin citizens. As a result, important environmental regulations and legislation have become stymied in committee. Indeed, Wisconsin citizens have been faced with the expensive and overwhelming task of defending the Public Trust Doctrine in Wisconsin.
In the face of powerful lobbyists, wealthy corporations, and a daunting state bureaucracy, citizens have been forced to spend thousands of their own dollars and countless hours to realize the quality of information and the level of legal assistance formerly provided by the Public Intervenor's Office at a cost of less than five cents per year for each Wisconsin citizen.
In the 1995-96 state budget, in a purported effort to "streamline government," Governor Thompson and the Wisconsin Legislature made radical changes to Wisconsin's ability to address environmental issues.
First, the secretary of the DNR became a governor-appointed and governor-controlled position, thereby removing the DNR from the control of the Natural Resources Board (an independent citizen committee composed of citizens appointed to six-year terms).
The second major change enacted by the 1995-96 state budget bill was the de facto elimination of the Public Intervenor's Office. The Office was cut down to one attorney with no secretarial support, and moved out of the Department of Justice ("DOJ") and into the DNR's Bureau of Legal Services. Most significantly, the Office was deprived of its power to sue on behalf of Wisconsin's citizenry.
This shadow of a Public Intervenor's Office, already rendered powerless without its ability to sue or enforce environmental protections, was abolished quietly a few years later by the legislature.