Monday, May 7, 2012

DNR Touted Pollution Self-Regulation; Record Showed Its Failure

The Department of Natural Resources explanation for its tap-on-the-wrist handling of an egregious human waste dumping pollution case is undermined by agency records cited by the Wisconsin State Journal.

DNR Executive Assistant Scott Gunderson - - the official at the center of the decision to let the matter be settled with minimum-level tickets instead of a referral to prosecutors - - told the State Journal that the agency goal is to encourage businesses to encourage them to voluntarily follow the law.

“If we can work with folks and bring them into compliance, then hopefully they are going to be self-regulators in the future,” Gunderson said.
But the State Journal is reporting that the same business owner in the dumping case was hit with heavier fines in a different pollution case for violations that stretched over several years:
Richard Herr has been in the DNR’s sights before. In 2008, the state Department of Justice brought a suit against his company, alleging it violated storm water runoff rules.

Herr and his Delafield company, Stoneridge Associates LP, paid a $240,000 settlement in the case, which was referred to the Justice Department by the DNR.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp's gratuitous, parsing news release Sunday night about the agency's handling of the human waste case calls it a first-time offense and did not mention the earlier case.

Equally outrageous: Walker's Friday defense - - bad timing, eh? - - of the agency's overall pullback from enforcement. Again, the State Journal reported:
Enforcement by the DNR has dropped precipitously at the agency in the past two years with the issuance of violation notices reaching a 12-year low last year. Referrals to the Department of Justice also are down dramatically, from the 12-year annual average of 65 to 21 in 2011. Stepp and other administrators blame the drop on lack of staff as well as a change in philosophy that emphasizes cooperation with businesses and bringing violators into compliance earlier in a case rather than relying on prosecution.

In a statement Friday, the governor’s office praised the DNR’s approach.
“Increasing compliance and decreasing the number of environmental regulation violations is a good thing for Wisconsin’s valuable natural resources, Wisconsin residents, tourism, our economy and ultimately for the next generation,” Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie wrote.

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