Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Breaking news: Legal demand that WI follow US water law

This blog has continuously monitored multiple threats to Wisconsin groundwater, wetlands, streams, lakes and rivers, and the intentionally and ideological enabled disregard of the public's resources and water rights by "chamber of commerce mentality" managers installed atop the Department of Natural Resources when Gov. Scott Walker took office in early 2011.

Now there is a ray of light - - and it deserves close and continuing attention:

Citizens petitioners with the assistance of attorneys at Midwest Environmental Advocates have asked the US Environmental Protection Agency to push the DNR to comply with earlier findings that Wisconsin had a stunning seventy-five deficiencies in enforcing the US Clean Water Act statewide:
The group said that the DNR is backsliding in its regulatory role, noting problems are not improving and in some cases are worsening in areas such runoff pollution, well contamination and algae-clogged lakes.
In July 2011, the EPA cited 75 deficiencies by the DNR in its handling of water regulation matters and ordered the DNR to address them. DNR enforces water regulation under the federal Clean Water Act, with oversight by the EPA.
If a state isn't complying with the federal act, the EPA can take away its authority and assume the regulation. 
The parties aren't asking the EPA to remove that authority now, but to take a greater oversight role and hold a public hearing in Wisconsin. Without improvement, the group says it will ask the EPA to take away the DNR's water regulation authority.
In other words, Wisconsin has failed to provide citizens in this state with the full range of federal clean water rights.
The warning signs about the state's inaction in the race of obvious problems and EPA letter which the DNR has basically ignored have been visible for years, as this 2012 news story indicated:
Recent actions by the federal EPA show problems at the state regulatory agency may go deeper than enforcement numbers and may extend to problems with weakened and unclear environmental rules and standards, which are the basis for issuing and enforcing permits.
Most glaring is a memorandum the EPA sent to the agency last year detailing 75 "apparent omissions and deviations" from federal law in the rules used by the state to issue permits and regulate federal clean water laws. Among the deficiencies were several that are the result of regulation changes adopted under the Walker administration. The EPA, for example, questioned a Wisconsin regulation passed in May that would require state agencies to put water standards in place only if a law provides for it.
And two weeks ago, the EPA asked the DNR to correct what it said was an inadequate annual list of impaired lakes and rivers by adding 99 bodies of water the state agency failed to include in its original listing.
Such rebukes are rare, said Todd Ambs, who stepped down in 2010 as head of the DNR's water division. "It's really unusual for the EPA to put anything critical in writing, let alone send a 75-point letter," Ambs said.
Just last weekend, I'd posted another water policy postings that are often featured:
If Wisconsin were really interested in environmental protection, it would not have a DNR run by the former developer Cathy Stepp, chosen by Scott Walker for her "chamber of commerce mentality," and who recently refused in partnership with the Wisconsin Attorney General to follow a judge's order to limit the number of additional thousands of cows to be added legally to a major dairy operation already associated with pollution.
If Wisconsin were really interested in environmental protection, it would not have delayed by 20 years the elimination of waterway-choking phosphorus pollution, and would have addressed an expanding dead zone in Green Bay caused by phosphorus-rich polluted runoff.
If Wisconsin were really interested in environmental protection, it would not have lined up the taxpayer-paid resources of the Governor's office, the Attorney General's office, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission and the DNR against proposed federal clean air rules. 
If Wisconsin were really interested in environmental protection, the PSC would not followed Walker's anti-wind power stance, nor would the agency have recently allowed Wisconsin utilities to add new fees on solar installations
If Wisconsin were really interested in environmental protection, the DNR would not have given the proposed expansion of the North-South Enbridge tar sand oil pipeline Number 61 an intentionally minimal review - - especially given the company's calamitous pollution record - - nor would the Legislature have approved a last-minute amendment to the state budget this summer blocking Dane County from requiring the company to obtain additional pollution insurance... 
Which is why grassroots and non-profit organizations...conservation groups and other advocates - - a perfect example is the coalition trying to ensure clean water in Kewaukee County over the DNR's obstructionism - - have to fight so hard not only against special interests but the state itself to ensure access to clean water and air, and environmental access and rights that are guaranteed in the Wisconsin State Constitution, but under constant, private-sector attack.
We'll see if the state complies promptly and effectively, but I doubt it.  Walker likes confrontations with the feds - - as he did over the Amtrak contract cancellation and his refusal of Medicaid expansion dollars - - and will claim that the DNR he has slashed to fit his corporate agenda does not have the resources.


Peter Felknor said...

One day our boy is going to be handcuffed and thrown into a black car with tinted windows and taken to somewhere far, far away (or maybe just Marion, IL--who cares?). We'll see how much Mr. Unintimidated enjoys THAT confrontation with the feds.

Humanities_excite said...

Too bad there isn't a parallel Federal intervention to rescue us from the many other forms of state-government-inflicted injustice underway in WI. If not intervention, Federal scrutiny would be a start.

Your blog will be of critical support to future historians in writing this chapter of Wisconsin's history. Many thanks for keeping your readers abreast of the facts.

Anonymous said...

What? Walker and his cronies follow the law? Right now they are legalizing all of his criminality. Now we know why Koch brothers wanted Walker in the White House, to stand down and then legalize these shenanigans.

Great crimes demand even more criminality!

Unknown said...

I hope it happens REAL soon.

Anonymous said...

Walker and his gang of thieves are just pigs, shameless pigs.

Anonymous said...

Consider that this is exactly what Walker wants. Get rid of the state apparatus that regulates and oversees water quality protection, discharge permits, and leave it to the grossly underfunded EPA. I don't see that as a good scenario. EPA doesn't regulate groundwater quality. They regulate drinking water and surface water quality. Regulation of drinking water is not the same as regulation of groundwater even if the source is groundwater. The safe drinking water act protects public health, not the environment. Treatment and not clean up is the solution to drinking water contamination. Permitted discharge permits would no longer address discharges to groundwater and chapter NR 140 would not apply to CAFOs or other NPDES permits anymore. This is a dream come true for big Ag and the sand miners who now have to meet the groundwater standards. There is a reason that Midwest Environmental Advocates is not pushing for loss of primacy and I sincerely hope that they don't make good on that threat.

Anonymous said...

"Such rebukes are rare, said Todd Ambs, who stepped down in 2010 as head of the DNR's water division. "It's really unusual for the EPA to put anything critical in writing, let alone send a 75-point letter," Ambs said."

Since these things don't happen overnight doesn't this mean that Ambs is somewhat culpable for the state's water quality?

Anonymous said...


Yah, sure. Waukesha has violated the Safe Drinking Water Act for 28 years with deep aquifer wells significantly over the MCL for radium dumping into the municipal distribution system untreated. The consent agreement allows this to continue until 2018 despite heavy violations that make the DNR, the agency of primacy under Walker, look reckless in their responsibility for enforcement. Human beings, customers of the Waukesha Water Utility, and their schools full of children are drinking water at times that is above the MCL with a chronic contaminant that can cause bone cancer, and they don't tell anyone when these violations are occurring.

That's Scott Walker's DNR.