Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ultimate GOP Environmental Target In Wisconsin Is The Public Trust Doctrine

There is a principle in state law and history known as the Public Trust Doctrine. Though awkwardly titled, it's crucial to Wisconsin's appeal by guaranteeing everyone here the right to access and enjoy all waters in the state.

The Public Trust Doctrine dates to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 - - long before Wisconsin statehood - - and is etched as Article IX in the Wisconsin State Constitution.

You can read about it on a DNR website, here.

But this basic Wisconsin birthright remains under continuous assault by Gov. Walker, Republican legislators, business groups and even short-sighted judges.

And you don't have to be a water expert of political scientist to see that removing the Public Trust Doctrine from the state constitution, or watering it down to insignificance is atop the GOP's conservative and anti-conservation agenda.

The evidence:

*  Wetlands preservation statewide has already been weakened through sweetheart legislation at the behest of developers and real estate interests. Walker signed the February, 2012 that allowing more encroachment into wetlands at a convention of cheering Realtors.

*  Even earlier, Walker had sent three signals that Wisconsin's waters and wetlands were open to pollution, weakened regulation or outright draining and filling:

He blocked rules designed to keep toxic phosphorus out of state waters, supported a special bill to let a developer fill a 12-acre wetland near Lambeau Field and signed a measure ending the requirement that all municipalities install water system disinfecting and testing equipment.

*  Walker is helping to extend years of delays that have allowed a large, coal-burning Lake Michigan ferry to dump overboard 3.8 tons of coal ash every day of its Manitowoc-to-Ludington, MI sailing season.

*  Thousands of northern Wisconsin acres rich in water resources are about to be cordoned off, and then - - if Walker and his legislative allies get their way - - blasted apart and cleared for an open-pit mine that will leak acidic drainage across the Bad River watershed at the edge of Lake Superior from layers of dynamited sulfide-bearing rock.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp set aside the traditional honest-broker role of agency chief and backed the passage of the mining bill, then took to right-wing AM talk radio when the bill faced an initial defeat for a partisan rant.

*  The DNR is so anxious to shrug off its neutrality, let alone the resource protection advocacy assigned to it my Public Trust Doctrine responsibilities and legal precedents that it is not contesting a Waukesha County lower court ruling that blocks the agency from opening a large lake to public access as the Public Trust Doctrine mandates.

The agency has its own legal staff and the Attorney General's team at its disposal, but the attitude is, 'gee, our hands are tied.'

The DNR even gave kid gloves treatment to a politically-connected septic waste hauler who dumped too much human waste on farm fields near residential wells.

*  Likewise, the DNR is not fighting for Public Trust guaranteed groundwater protections. Instead our deliberately-passive DNR with the "chamber-of-commerce mentality" that Walker installed at the top is intentionally enabling large water users, including industrial-scale dairies and scores of new frac sand mines.

*  The same DNR that says it really doesn't have any power to protect water rights in the public interest is busy working to give shoreline builders more construction "flexibility" - - or as others call it - - a greater water rights "give-away." 

Both Stepp and her deputy, Matt Moroney, came from the building industry.

*  And the Walkerites - - both at the top of the DNR, in corporations and at lobbying groups across the state - - will be emboldened by a recent 4-3 State Supreme Court ruling written by big business captive David Prosser that will help the DNR further retreat from strong Public Trust Doctrine implementation.

On behalf of big business, donors and the private sector, Walker and his allies are draining the Public Trust Doctrine's effectiveness from the state constitution, or about to launch a full frontal assault as they are also discussing limiting constitutionally-defined voting rights.

Either way, those are our water rights being sold down the river.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I think you've laid out a very compelling argument.

Not surprising, no. But compelling.

It's not much surprise that the financial backers that installed Scott Walker would like to eradicate all of the public rights that Wisconsin has enacted into its Constitution. ALEC, as you have pointed out, has authored a host of legislation that are being inserted into any number of Republican-controlled legislatures around the country, and Wisconsin is one of them.

Never mind that ALEC is a creation of the extremely wealthy persons and corporations, solely for the purpose of increasing their obscene wealth. Never mind that enacting these new laws require legal skeeviness, hiding their actions from public scrutiny, and using illegal tactics to force new laws through with insufficient scrutiny and public input.

And yet, the AM radio screamers keep saying that Obama is a tyrant who ignores the citizenry.

As has been said, when the Right is yelling about something, it's all projection.

Pressure washers said...

Very informative article ...Keep posting ...

Trainmaster said...

and you're not even getting into the privatization of the municipal water systems that at some point will become an issue!

Richard E. Schallert said...

November 6th is coming! The PEOPLE's very best opportunity to save Wisconsin from the last few decades of using, abusing and exploiting our great State!! The few wealthy and well-off may have the money; WE HAVE THE VOTES!! Stand Up! Speak Out! Support candidates who have ALL OF US in mind when they legislate and regulate! THEN GET OUT THE VOTES AT ELECTION TIME!!