Sunday, September 21, 2014

Walker, DNR to curtail citizen role in sand mine reviews

[updated 12:02 a.m. Sunday] Gov. Walker and the Department of Natural Resources want to use their emergency rule-making powers to give the frac sand mining industry an unfair advantage by cutting back the public's right to request the DNR undertake scientific analyses of sand mine planning and operations.

Prior to Walker's move on August 27th, the public could request and assess such information, reports Midwest Environmental Advocates, (MEA), a public interest law firm.

Madison-based MEA is trying to compel a state natural resources board which oversees the DNR to direct the agency to carry out a comprehensive study of frac sand mining - - something the board and agency should have already done.

Under his emergency rule-makng power expanded by the Legislature after his election, Walker can actually delete statutory language without legislative participation - - in this matter, language that gives citizens the right to petition the state to produce scientific information.

In this case, citizens will no longer be able to have the DNR direct studies about frac sand mining, a matter of widespread and deep controversy in Western Wisconsin.

And that will be fine with the current pro-corporate DNR senior management. In fact, the DNR's leaders just gave a frac sand mining company elite environmental "green" status despite the company's recent record of air permit violations.

This particular DNR management team, sent to Madison to weaken environmental protections, has more than once demonstrated a contempt for science despite the DNR's key roles in air, water, land and wildlife protection.

There was no real emergency prompting Walker's exercise of pro-mining gubernatorial state power that will cut off the people's right to crucial information about sand mining's impact on air, water and land  - - no 'emergency' other than mining companies' wish to further weaken government oversight and opposition from informed neighbors.

The only real emergency here in rural town after town across western Wisconsin is the sudden and virtually-unregulated risk from round-the-clock sand excavation, trucking and rail-hauling from scores of relatively-new frac sand mines and the resulting airborne sand particles, water pollution, over-pumping of groundwater, noise and other public health and safety issues.

About that, Walker could care less, regardless of his responsibilities, the DNR's expertise and legacy role. It is part of his widespread and unprecedented contempt for everyday people, while favoring business and partisan allies.

Here is one posting cataloguing much of that behavior.

Walker's promotion of voter ID was a misuse of state power in the face of no known threat.

In this instance, Walker is misusing state power by aiming it restrictively at people trying to avert health and environmental problems rather than at the industries doing the damage.

What is particularly outrageous about this sneak attack on the democratic process and the acceleration of risks to public health is that the bureacratic and legal manipulation being used is exactly what current DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp complained about when she blasted the agency prior to her appointment.

After I reprint below the text of the law firm's disclosure of the Walker/DNR sudden rule change I will reprint Stepp's earlier screed about rule change procedures, and you can judge for yourself if you see any hypocrisy in what the DNR is now doing under Stepp at Walker's direction.

And contemplate the mentality which Walker has put in charge of a state agency that enforces state and federal clean air and water law, among things.

I reproduced her writing verbatim. All the capitalization, bold-facing and other screeching visuals are hers.

Remember that in Wisconsin, these rules have the effect of law, and if citizens want to undo the changes they have to hire their own lawyers to fight the government they finance with taxes.


Midwest Environmental Advocates: Citizens impacted by frac sand mining announce new petition to the Natural Resources Board

Sarah Williams, Staff Attorney, (608) 251-5047 x 5,
Stacy Harbaugh, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, (608) 466-632

Rules Signed by Gov. Walker Could Erase Citizen Petition Rights 

MADISON, WI – After Governor Walker approved emergency rule changes to the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act on August 27, narrowing the rights of citizens to petition their government for environmental analyses, residents impacted by frac sand mining in Western Wisconsin announced their plan to petition the Natural Resources Board for a comprehensive study of the health and environmental impacts of the industry. 

The petition will ask for the NRB to direct the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to take a close look at the impacts the industry has on the health of those who live near silica sand mining operations as well as the impacts on the quality of the water, air and land. 

“We believe that citizens have the right to ask for – and the Natural Resources Board has the power to require the DNR to conduct – a strategic analysis, or an in-depth study of frac sand mining’s impacts,” said petitioner Ken Schmitt.

“We also have the right to have our water free of sediment, our air free of dust that causes cancer and silicosis, and our own property investments protected. Without a look at the big picture, our state government isn’t taking the total impact of this industry into consideration. We need a deeper look into how our water, air, safe roads, property rights and values, and the long-term viability of our region’s economy may be at risk.”

Approved by the NRB on August 13, the emergency rule change proposed by DNR leadership greatly narrowed the opportunities to obtain strategic analyses, studies by DNR staff which take an in-depth look at the environmental impacts of resource-intensive industrial activities or development projects.

“The rules behind WEPA matter,” said Sarah Williams, MEA staff attorney. “The right of citizens to petition their government matters, especially when they have real concerns about whether their water and air is at risk. When elected officials listen to powerful industries rather than the people of Wisconsin, citizens have to take action to get information and demand protections for their health.”

Under revisions to WEPA rules put in effect earlier this year, the NRB can direct the DNR to conduct a strategic analysis of the impacts of industry to the environment.

 A current strategic analysis is underway as the DNR conducts a comprehensive look at the impact of high-capacity wells in Wisconsin’s Central Sands, an area where residential water use and levels of surface waters are being impacted by industrial agricultural activity. The study will help elected officials create policy that balances economic development needs with the DNR’s duty to act as trustee for all Wisconsinites’ rights today and for generations to come.
Now here is the screed that helped get Stepp appointed DNR Secretary by Walker because she had the requisite "chamber of commerce mentality." 

JUNE 26, 2009

And Another "Do As I Say" Moment...

Those of you that haven't had the pleasure of peeking behind the scenes of our state agencies like DNR, Health and Family Services, etc...need to know how some of the most far-reaching policies come down on our heads.

The most crushing/controversial rules that businesses have to follow in our state are--most times--done through the "rule making process" of our state agencies. Without bogging everyone down with some really boring procedure talk, suffice it to say that many of these great ideas (sarcasm) come from deep inside the agencies and tend to be reflections of that agency's culture.

For example, people who go to work for the DNR's land, waste, and water bureaus tend to be anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, karner blue butterflies, etc...This is in their nature; their make-up and DNA. So, since they're unelected bureaucrats who have only their cubicle walls to bounce ideas off of, they tend to come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with.

I could go on and on with examples of some of the most ridiculous stuff I've seen come down the pike, (no pun intended), but for the purposes of this post, I am going to pull out a quote from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's summary report on the outcome of the "budget negotiations" that legislative democrats had with each other. (Note: I said with "each other." There were no republican ideas or motions accepted AT ALL during the Conference Committee process. No surprise there.)

When an agency sees an urgent need--example would be Chronic Wasting Disease management plans--they're allowed to implement an Emergency Rule. Understandable, since these ideas get an urgent run through the Joint Committee to Review Administrative Rules (affectionately known as JCRAR) without much public notice or scrutiny. The process is there to address emergencies ONLY.

Well, sometimes agencies try to use this process as an end-around the legislative process to implement Rules, which end up having the same affect as Laws. (Those of you who have piers in lakes or culverts at the end of your driveways have probaby experienced these Rules.)

O'k, I went waaay wordier than I intended, but here's some language that was inserted into this BudgetPig that should scare everyone--regarding one of our agencies, the Department of Commerce: "it may promulgate the initial rules as emergency rules without the finding of emergency."

Why should this scare you? When (not if, I said WHEN) they give this authority to the DNR there will be more of a whooshing sound as businesses run for the borders.

It's always the fine print in these things that have the heaviest hit.

Just another example of the democrats game plan: Change the Rules to Fit the Players.

Shout it with me, now: HYPOCRISY, THY NAME IS DEMOCRAT.


Anonymous said...

Yup just example after example how Walker not only sets the rules for each state agency but how he changes the rules to reward his corporate and business donors. Under Act 20 Walker took over the right to unilaterally approve or reject all agency policies and rules. In other words he runs every state agency with the exception of DPI which is headed by an elected official. Also he ended the civil service designation for agency heads and appointed his own patronage person to direct each agency. Walker controls every aspect of government in Wisconsin so when something fails it is his fault not the person he throws under the bus. Does anyone still believe that he knew nothing about the secret e- mail system when he headed Milwaukee County. He's corrupt to the bone....always was and always will be!

Anonymous said...

All state employees (as well as other public employees) took a 10% pay cut and Wisconsinites cheered and voted again for Walker and his appointees. Here's a newsflash for all you Walker voters, non-voters and people who didn't help with the campaigns for Walker's opponent from all of us state employees: We care about you as much as you care about us. In other words, not at all. Dirty air? Dirty water? Edible fish? Cry me a river. I'm taking my retirement money (whatever Walker leaves me) and moving out of state. Kiss my purchasing power and tax money good-bye.

JoAnn said...

I do think this is an abuse of power. I would like to know what gives him the right to declare an emergency. I would think he would have to prove what the emergency is. No person serving the people should have the power to take away the power of the people to petition the government or its agencies. What does he think he is a dictator? His job as a governor is to govern and to protect our constitutional rights. Not to change statutory rules under the guise of an emergency to fit his contributors wishes. His whole stint stinks of corruption in the highest form. Vote him out, please. We have been paralyzed as a state since he took office.

Anonymous said...

you sure post a bunch of crap -- no wonder newspapers are dead -- arrogant folks like you drove them into the ground.

Love the way you play into the lie of "purple".

Jake formerly of the LP said...

I'd rather move out Walker and the corrupt, racist trash that back him. That's my plan for the next 6 1/2 weeks, anyway.

Don't mope. Get angry and get even at these corrupt slimeballs

Anonymous said...

@Jake, Don't mope, get angry? So I should try to convince ignorant Wisconsinites that paying taxes will preserve their natural environment, educate their kids and improve their roads? No thanks. They refuse to believe in a direct relationship between the two. They think that if they don't pay taxes, these things will magically happen because we are their public servants. What they really want are public slaves. They need their money for beer, cable and guns. And when they can't buy that hunting license for cheap, have to buy imported beer because the water is slimy and when the cable company turns off their TV they will blame the public workers because ... we are "taking their money." No. This public employee is getting proactive and moving on to a place where people understand that "public" means everyone. I have nothing but contempt for Wisconsinites.

Jake formerly of the LP said...

I'll bite. What in the post is a "bunch of crap?" Enlighten us.

I bet you don't have the guts. Your type never does. Your boy is a crook who would turn the state into a sewer if it made him a few thousand in donations. OWN IT

Jake formerly of the LP said...

I'm not asking you to waste time with the stupid. I'm saying you should be bringing this up to casual people who will care about our state getting destroyed.

I agree you can't fix stupid and weak-minded, but they're only about 20% of the state. We just need to outvote them

Anonymous said...

Right after this happened I contacted the JournalSentinel and Wisconsin State Journal to explore this. I was passed to their environmental reporters who got back to me and said there was no story here as they had contacted the DNR and were told that the emergency rule change was merely cleaning up some redundancies. When I asked why this required an emergency rule change I got a "Don't Know." Sadly Walker gets away with crap like this because he and his agencies hunker down and refuse to be accountable to the people of Wisconsin and the press allows themselves to be stalemated. At least they should inform the public when Walker and his agency heads refuse to answer questions. Somehow blogs like this should have a print or video format through which the public could truly be informed of what Walker is doing to them!