Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Corporate WI sends Legislature well water control demands

A pretty stunning memo was sent last week by multiple trade groups and corporate special interests to the State Legislature in advance of today's hearing about the fast-tracked Wisconsin water giveaway bill I wrote about yesterday that puts groundwater and downstream users' access in private hands.

(Hap tip to the Malcontends blog for pulling back the curtain on how bills become law and pointing readers to the memo.)

The bold, hand-delivered memo, its bold-faced language and the weighty array of powerful logos at the top tell the story:

An urgent communication to all Wisconsin legislators 
We are at a crossroads. It is imperative that the legislature assert its authority and bring certainty and sanity to the regulation of new and existing high capacity wells in Wisconsin. 
However, we cannot accept any legislation that would create new, stifling regulations or establish regulatory uncertainty as to how DNR and the state will approach new well applications moving forward. 
Among the coalition's "solutions" - - 
Clarification of the public trust doctrine consistent with the Supreme Court's Rock- Koshkonong decision 
More about that here, but it's clear that what industry wants is primacy over state waters and decisions about who gets it.

The big red flag:

The organizations are targeting and want the Legislature to do the same and remake The Public Trust Doctrine, an historic principle of water law enshrined as Article IX of the Wisconsin State Constitution that guarantees the public's rights to water access and enjoyment, and has been interpreted to mean that the DNR's first obligation in conflicts over water is to protect the public's rights.

You can read about it, here: Wisconsin's Waters Belong to Everyone.

Front-and-center among the topics and posts about water in Wisconsin has been the relentless attack by the right on behalf of business

I wrote this two years ago, and based on the more recent history and the memo above, I'd say it's happening. Right now:
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 discussing with constitutionally-defined voting rights.

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


Anonymous said...

You can get Republican attention on this issue REALLY fast:

If the Waukesha Water Utility is denied Lake Michigan water, one of the proposed alternative solutions is to sit high capacity wells west of the City of Waukesha where the shale layer ends in central Waukesha County, LAKE COUNTRY, heart of the GOP.

Waukesha eliminated that potential solution citing potential lawsuits. This proposed legislation would certainly help Waukesha's cause.

elaine x said...

Life is long, the ownership of water to arbitrary or fiscal debt rather than public interest is anemic to evolution of humanity's highest order. It is a public utility for public good.

Humanities_excite said...

I have often thought that a link to your blog would be sufficient basis for the Justice Department to issue a "Cease and Desist" to the entire lot of them.

dlinnane said...

Damn, seems like you folks in Wisconsin are spending a lot of time getting bent over by the people you are putting in office...and I don't mean to be this crude, but are there really that many people who just don't give a shit about water, air, and natural resources? Seems like monied interests are capable of finding, convincing, and paying enough stupid people to overcome those of us who know's pretty damn depressing, isn't it. Some consolation for you,'s happening all over this country.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say you hit it right on the head.

Yes, there are that many people that don't give a damn. And to make it worse, they are the very people that will get hurt by it.

The Big Boys are laughing all the way to the bank.

There's always a bubbler in Walmart.

Bill Sell said...

Shared your comment with my own few words: We Milwaukeans, in spite of the good advice of many of us, steamrolled the Public Trust Doctrine in order to get a skyscraper that was ordered up by our County Executive.

Watch the second act of Public Trust Doctrine Ravaged.

WordSmith said...

Yeah, we're getting bent over the old water barrel. But, we asked for it when we supported the very corporations that have stolen our democracy. When you elect character's that are backed by large corporations, what else can you expect? Stupid get's what stupid earns. The two party system is corporate owned and controlled, time to change the dominant paradigm. I don't suppose you'll allow this, moderator... I'm not surprised.