There has been a stunning drop-off in clean air and water enforcement actions taken by the DNR since Scott Walker installed his pro-business management team at the agency, according to documents cited Sunday by veteran environmental writer Ron Seely at the Wisconsin State Journal.
Recent enforcement numbers show a downward trend in attention to everything from inspections to notifying permit holders of violations. The number of violation notices issued by the DNR in 2011 was far below the annual average for the past 12 years in several crucial areas. In total, the number of violation notices has averaged 516 a year since 2000 compared to 233 last year.
The agency issued 46 air violation notices in 2011 compared to the 12-year average of 128, and eight stormwater permit violations in 2011 compared to the average of 42.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, is a former DNR secretary and also was in charge of enforcement at the agency for many years. He described the decreases as "more than a dip."Though dismissed by current agency Secretary Cathy Stepp, the Federal government is concerned:
"The numbers are so dramatic, it is clear there is a different philosophy toward enforcement," Meyer said. "And the message, the culture change, starts at the top. Staff reflects leadership."
"The decline in enforcement activity in Wisconsin raises concerns about whether the state is adequately carrying out its responsibility to enforce the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and other federal laws that WDNR is authorized to implement," Susan Hedman, EPA regional administrator, said in a statement.I had taken note last week of one such federal action.
Kimberly Wright of the public interest law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates issued this statement Sunday:
April 29, 2012For Immediate ReleaseContact: Kim Wright, Midwest Environmental Advocates, (608) 215-1233 or (608) 251-5047 ext 3Madison , WI - A dramatic drop in environmental enforcement threatens public health and the rights of future generations to a clean and healthful environment. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary Cathy Stepp explains the drop in oversight of air and water quality as a “shift in philosophy,” in the Wisconsin State Journal. http://bit.ly/KnvpBMBy law, the Department of Natural Resources has a duty to manage and oversee Wisconsin’s water, air and land resources. The public should take note of the concerns expressed by both former and current DNR staff over the dramatic decline in environmental enforcement, concerns echoed by the regional administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. DNR deputy secretary Matt Maroney is correct in stating the problem didn’t begin with this administration, but the shocking drop in enforcement on their watch requires them to solve it.“The question for the Natural Resources Board is can Stepp’s hand-picked team solve a problem they don’t seem to acknowledge exists,” says Kim Wright, Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, a non-profit environmental law center that uses the power of the law to support community efforts to protect our water, air and land. “Every day we hear from citizens across Wisconsin who need the DNR to step in and take action against polluters causing them harm. Statewide, people are taking on a growing burden to secure scientific and legal resources to hold polluters accountable, a duty professional DNR staff once had the resources and autonomy to fulfill.”The DNR’s duty to enforce environmental standards isn’t any more optional than the duty of a police department to investigate an assault and battery. Both need to secure the safety of the person or resource under attack and use all the tools at their disposal to bring perpetrators to justice.Whether due to a change in philosophy that focuses on “customer service” or to political interference with professional staff, the unprecedented decline in the enforcement of environmental standards puts the public at risk. The DNR has a legal duty to monitor and enforce permits that control the amount of pollution that can be safely discharged into our air and water.“There are good people within the DNR that are not being allowed to do their jobs and the people of Wisconsin are paying for that in many ways,” Wright states.####
Important Facts· Secretary Stepp insists that DNR’s actions should be used to judge its work. Recent enforcement numbers show a downward trend in enforcement, everything from inspections to notifying permit holders of violations.o The number of violation notices issued by the DNR in 2011 was far below the annual average for the past 12 years. In total, the number of violation notices has averaged 516 a years since 2000, compared to 233 in 2011.o The agency issued 46 air violation notices in 2011 compared to the 12-year average of 128.o The agency issued 8 stormwater permit violations in 2011 compared to the 12-year average of 42.· The politicization of the DNR is no longer just among the management. Act 10, passed in 2011, had a provision that made legislative liaisons, lawyers, and spokespeople political appointees of the Governor.· Lack of enforcing environmental laws is not good for business in Wisconsin. Business that are allowed to get around the law get an unfair advantage. It punishes the responsible, good businesses who follow environmental regulations.· The cost of evidenced-based advocacy, which if not born by the DNR is born by the public, is expensive.o One set of water quality tests can cost over $3500, including a hydro-geologist’s time and sample testing by a state-certified lab. This does not include attorney time.· Midwest Environmental Advocates is a non-profit environmental law center that uses the power of the law to help Wisconsin citizens protect our heritage of healthy water, air, land and government. More information can be found at www.midwestadvocates.org.