Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blockbuster Disclosure: Walker DNR Appointees Helped Polluter Get Wrist Slap

A waste hauler avoids referral by DNR staffers to prosecutors for egregious human waste dumping near wells and farm fields.

Turns out in Walker World if you're in that kind of trouble, it doesn't hurt to know the political appointees he put in charge of the DNR, or a well-connected sitting legislator, too,

Overall, Walker's appointees have systematically turned a blind eye to clean air and water violations.

But it's worse than you can imagine: check out this strong, records-based report by veteran Wisconsin State Journal environmental writer Ron Seely, whose reporting about wrist-slaps for repeated dumping of human waste near drinking water supplies and farm fields condemns the DNR's failings and also makes the case for a special prosecutor:
A top political appointee at the state Department of Natural Resources chose not to send a complaint against an Oconomowoc waste hauler to the Department of Justice for prosecution despite findings by agency staff that the company was treating fields with so much human waste from septic tanks it risked poisoning nearby wells, DNR records show.

Scott Gunderson, executive assistant to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, “made an extra effort” to deal with the complaint internally last year even though the agency’s enforcement staff urged that the case be referred to DOJ, which could have imposed fines of tens of thousands of dollars.

Instead, Gunderson decided to ask district attorneys in Waukesha and Jefferson counties to issue five citations against Herr Environmental and fine the company $4,338 — the minimum forfeiture for the permit violations, which the lead DNR investigator called “among the worst” he’d seen.

Gunderson, a former Republican state representative, received $750 in campaign contributions from the owner of the company, Richard Herr, and Herr’s wife in 2006 and 2008. Last week, Gunderson said he forgot when he agreed to oversee the case that he accepted political contributions from the Herrs, major supporters of Republican campaigns as well as some Democratic candidates. Gunderson said even if he had been aware of the contributions, it would not have influenced his decision.

The case normally would have been assigned to DNR deputy secretary Matt Moroney, who said he handed it to Gunderson because he was acquainted with another officer of Herr Environmental.
But agency records show Moroney, also a political appointee and the former executive director of the Metropolitan Builders of Greater Milwaukee, intervened at least once on behalf of the company prior to his recusal, urging the DNR staff to listen to his friend at Herr Environmental because “he has always been a very straight shooter” and “we all make innocent mistakes.”
I've been writing about this crew and their philosophy of "loosened regulation" since January, 2011.


Anonymous said...

I guess the Walker Administration's new motto is "Let them drink $h*t, we're open for business".

Reagan's Disciple said...

I guess the error was in where he dumped and not what he dumped. Hindsight is 20/20, but he probably should have just taken it down and dumped it in Lake Michigan.

MMSD does regularly and without any repercussions.

James Rowen said...

I am embarrassed for you, RD.

Reagan's Disciple said...

Pretty simple question. Should they be allowed to dump their sewage in Lake Michigan or not?

Just for the record, I don't approve of what Herr did.
However, these affected homeowners would likely have septic systems (both their own and their neighbors) much closer to their wells than where Herr presumably dumped more waste than they were permitted.

Anonymous said...

RD, face it: you do not have anyone in office to represent conservatism. You have to choose between liberals and mobsters.

Anonymous said...

What gets me is that Republicans are the first ones to take a really hard line on crime when it involves drugs. Three strikes and yer out -- all that tough on crime BS. When it comes to a polluter, well let's work things out. We can do justice better by understanding how tough it is to comply with the law.

Reagan's Disciple said...

Just waiting for an answer to my question...

Reagan's Disciple said...

still waiting?