Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Senior political appointee quits WI DNR

There's even less there, there, at the once proud WI DNR than we'd thought:

Mike Bruhn is one of Walker's top at-will appointees, so it's not just career scientists (two examples) or discouraged public servants pulling the plug.


Or being moved, as the former and ultra-powerful Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney was transferred to Walker's personal staff, Bruhn's predecessor and former legislative boss Scott "Gundy" Gunderson had been moved to the Department of Revenue, and DNR spokesman Bill Cosh was moved to Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection.


That's approaching WEDC turnover levels.


Bruhn's bio is still on the agency's website:

Michael is a 1997 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Michael spent more than thirteen years working in the Wisconsin State Assembly clerking the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. 
He has many years of experience handling legislative issues related to hunting and fishing, environmental quality, firearms and the state budget. 
Michael joined the DNR in July 2011 as the department’s legislative liaison. In September 2014, Michael was named as the department’s director of policy and external relations where he was responsible for coordinating and managing the department’s policy development and relations with external partners and stakeholders. 
His duties include supervising the DNR’s Office of Communications, tribal liaison, and legislative liaison. On February 9, Governor Walker appointed Michael as the department’s assistant deputy secretary. 
In his free time, Michael is a huge Badger, Packer and Brewer fan. He enjoys riding ATVs and hiking. With the excitement surrounding the implementation of the Deer Trustee Report, Michael has recently taken up deer hunting.Last revised: Wednesday March 25 2015

And if the NW WI open-pit iron mine had been dug...

With its millions of tons of dynamited rock and clear-cut forest dumped in wetlands as the industry-backed law now allows, the DNR would have had to come up with a new classification for these seven trout streams in Iron and Ashland County - - like a Zero, or Buried or Gone Forever:
ASHLAND,Wis. - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proposing the classification of seven trout streams in Ashland County and five streams in Iron County as a result of survey work that has provided new information about the streams' quality physical habitat, cold water sources and ability to support naturally reproducing brook trout populations.  
All streams listed for classification are small, unnamed headwater tributaries to more well-known trout fisheries.
More from the DNR and trout fishing in Wisconsin, here.
catchable trout - brook trout
Catchable-size trout provide angling opportunities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

State workers argue against ending civil service

Glad to post this news release from a reader opposed to an imminent legislative proposal to upend civil service in Wisconsin:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  


Wisconsin State Employee Council Says Changes to Civil Service Rules are not needed


Madison, Wisconsin.  


September 28, 2015:


The recent Republican proposal to reform Wisconsin’s Civil Service rules is another case of attempting to fix something that isn’t broken. 


The Civil Service System was created to counteract the influence of politicians on state jobs.  Allowing politicians to appoint public employees promotes cronyism. 


The likelihood of getting the best employees in state service jobs is also reduced.These proposed changes will make state jobs less attractive as a viable career choice for the best qualified candidates.  


The inability to find the best and brightest candidates is a direct result of vilifying public employees and erosion of compensation and employee security.


As a result of these proposed changes, employee turnover will increase and service quality and accountability will suffer.


This proposal to change civil service rules is disheartening at best and disastrous at worst.We ask that Wisconsin citizens that value good government contact their legislators to let them know that these changes are NOT in the public interest.  


You can find contact information for your legislators at:  http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ .

WisDOT FUBAR: Add delayed highway expansion to unfilled potholes

Policy and budgeting fail alert:

Wisconsin state officials made promises it couldn't keep to the road-builders while also breaking faith - - and wheel rims, tires and axles - - with everyday motorists.

And bus riders? You're just moochers, leaders say:
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has pushed for public transit to be funded through the state’s general budget instead of the DOT, saying he considers transit a social program. Gov. Scott Walker proposed such a move in his last budget and Vos said it had the support of Assembly Republicans, but it failed to make it through the state Senate.
Yet the state is plowing ahead with a new, $200 million office building where WisDOT can hold its contractor meetings and continue 'planning' more highway-lane construction as motorists drive fewer miles, boomers age away from the steering wheel and millennials prefer transit.

Follow Great Lakes habitat restoration projects online


a wetland in May
Hat tip to the Great Lakes Echo blog for publishing a link to a tool which shows how and where federal Great Lakes habitat restoration funding is being spent:
"A new online widget shows with just a couple of clicks how $290 million in federal funds for improving the Great Lakes ecosystem has been spent.
"The Great Lakes Restoration Database let’s people know “what’s going on in their backyards” with land and water protection, said Heather Braun, a project manager with the Great Lakes Commission, which developed the site. The online system tracks the progress of more than 600 restoration projects."

GOP obstructs federal financing, Waukesha firm takes jobs to Canada

[Updated] Turns out there's a new way to kill Bucky's jobs:

Paul Ryan and other right-wing bigs in the Wisconsin and national GOP House caucuses have ideological objections to government financing for businesses long provided by the US Export-Import Bank, so a major GE unit which makes engines in Waukesha has decided to shut down, hit the road and enjoy a better deal in Canada:
General Electric Co (GE.N) said on Monday it will move production of large, gas-powered engines to Canada from Wisconsin, along with 350 jobs, to access export financing no longer available in the United States. 
In its latest salvo aimed at persuading Congress to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank's charter which expired in June, GE will invest $265 million in a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant at a Canadian location yet to be determined. 
The facility, to open in about 20 months, can be expanded to provide flexible manufacturing capacity to support other GE businesses, including engines for railroad locomotives, GE said.
In exchange for moving the production from Waukesha, Wisconsin, Export Development Canada will provide financing support for a range of future products, including some still made in the United States... 
Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner, who represents Waukesha and opposes EXIM "in its current form," said in a statement that the move was a "sober reminder of the urgent need to stay competitive in the global marketplace" and called for lower corporate tax rates.
Michigan's former GOP Governor, now a national business spokesman, has called these GOP congressional ideologues "economically illiterate."



Monday, September 28, 2015

Tossing civil service would push WI across ethical divide

[Updated from Sunday, 9/27, 1:40 p.m.] Rarely has a state government set out to wreak havoc on itself to feed needy political egos, reward insiders and advance crackpot ideology (see Kansas, Brownback, et al), but that's where Wisconsin is headed.

So before it's too late, Wisconsin lawmakers should be forced in the name of fairness and logic to bury permanently a GOP-inspired plan that appeared out of nowhere last week to discard the protections for taxpayers which support and define the state government civil service personnel system.

Like similar and recent right-wing GOP efforts to kill the state Open Records law and the non-partisan Government Accountability Board, the civil service eradication proposal is a partisan power-grab, pure and simple and overwhelmingly self-interested and cynical.

Citing and hyping the slimmest of evidence - - a handful of headline-grabbing outrages by a few bad apples among tens of thousands of dedicated public servants and their multiple millions of hours of honest work - - game-playing GOP legislative leaders and an ever-opportunistic Gov. Walker again went to their deep well of anti-labor sentiment when announcing they intended to scrap civil service exams and turn state employee recruiting, hiring, promotion and termination over to agency heads whom Walker has already appointed.

Which will lead to personnel decisions - - from the mail room to the board room - - inevitably and intentionally influenced by friendships, party affiliations, political preferences and campaign donations.

How much control is enough for this Governor and his party?

Grossly-secretive and tilted redistricting has already allowed GOP legislators to reward Walker with  far greater powers than his predecessors wielded over state assets, including jobs.

*  He and department heads he's appointed can now appoint department-level, in-house attorneys whose positions, along with information specialists and other senior positions, were moved from civil service to at-will employment in the early days of his administration.

*  He can sell any state asset with minimal review by the legislature's budget-writing committee which he and his party control 12-4, and without competitive bids.

*  He can approve or turn aside administrative rules which have the force of law in Wisconsin, and which had previously been the subject of public hearings.

*  He, his 'chamber-of-commerce mentality' appointees and legislative allies have repeatedly corporatized and politicized the Department of Natural Resources and reorganized it to elevate business influence; little wonder that major exceptions and favors are being sought there, especially involving waters which belong to everyone.

* The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation he created and chaired for nearly its entire existence has been repeatedly caught making questionable loans and dubious grants while evading routine accounting and legal procedures set up  to protect the public interest and purse.

The Walkerites said all those practices were cumbersome - - the same justification being cited in the proposed civil service rollback.

Goodbye objectivity. Hello, spoils (and we've seen it before).

Welcome to Havocwreakistan.

Can you imagine a state hiring system where Big Pharma and insurers are better able to get their favored resumes more easily into the hiring process at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Do the road-builders and trucking firms need more influence at the WisDOT - - which purportedly regulates them?

Whose interest is being served if pipeline and fossil fuel businesses and builders gain even more access to staffing at the DNR and the Public Service Commission?

Should partisan organizations, lobbyists, and advocacy groups be better positioned to pitch their people to every state agency, with gubernatorial appointees able to make the hiring, promotion and firing decisions in coordination with the Governor or his office staff?

Wisconsin is at an ethical crossroads.

Inefficiency, waste, personal preferences for public personnel, partisan advantage and corruption - - the basics of political danger and heartbreak - - are dead ahead.



Deaths from 46,000 tons of VW-enabled pollution an estimated 40-106

Some interesting projections in The New York Times find an estimated death toll in the US from 46,000 tons of air pollution spewed secretly by VW diesel engines at between 40-to-106, which is at the higher end of known deaths to date caused in the US by faulty GM ignition switches: 
Unlike the ignition defect in General Motors vehicles that caused at least 124 people to die in car crashes, Volkswagen pollution is harder to link to individual deaths. But it is clear to public health researchers that the air pollutants the cars illegally emitted damage health, and they have formulas to calculate the lives lost from excess pollution. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency uses its own estimates of the health effects of air pollution to create its regulations of what’s allowed. After consulting with several experts in modeling the health effects of air pollutants, we calculated a death toll in the United States that, at its upper range, isn’t far off from that caused by the G.M. defect.

Shell suspends wasteful, crazy Arctic drilling

Good news for the environment. Let's hope the company did a better job sealing its test well than it did getting its rig launched in the first place:
Royal Dutch Shell announced early Monday morning it will suspend Arctic drilling indefinitely, after finding insufficient oil and gas in one of its exploratory wells to justify costly development.
The move puts the end — for now — on the contentious debate over whether oil and gas exploration should take place in the environmentally sensitive area off Alaska’s coast. President Obama has come under intense fire for allowing drilling to proceed, and environmentalists cheered Shell’s announcement...
The company said it would take a large financial charge as a result of the announcement. The balance sheet value of Shell’s Alaska position is approximately $3.0 billion, with approximately a further $1.1 billion of future contractual commitments for equipment the company expected to use in 2016 and 2017, the company said...
Shell has spent more than $7 billion on oil exploration in the Alaskan Arctic, including more than $2 billion in what was a record Interior Department lease sale in 2008 and $1.4 billion this year. 
But its efforts to find a vast amount of oil have been mired in lawsuits and a regulatory process complicated by a series of mishaps — such as hitting uncharted shoals — that have damaged vessels required for the drilling program. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cathy Stepp may greenlight Rube Goldberg to 'fix' Chippewa Flowage

As the Walkerites work relentlessly to turn over the Wisconsin environment to special interests, a wealthy Walker donor couple in Northern Wisconsin - - 
a wetland in May
- - keeps pushing the envelope:
A major political donor to Gov. Scott Walker wants state approval for a project designed to keep a 12-acre floating bog away from his northern Wisconsin property by permanently fastening it to the bottom of the lake. 
The plan by Richard E. Uihlein, CEO of Pleasant Prairie-based Uline Corp., is unprecedented for the sprawling Chippewa Flowage; it calls for crews to use barges, a crane and a pile driver to pound large posts through the bog and anchor it to the lake bed. 
The construction-style scale of the project, outlined in an Aug. 17 memo to the Department of Natural Resources, is raising objections on a lake that has long been known for big muskies and rugged, wooded shorelines.
Didn't North County Notebook storyteller George "Papa Hambone" Vukelich write years ago about someone who built a concrete wall at the edge of Lake Superior, or another Wisconsin body of water, convinced of the genius of the plan only to watch Mother Nature break it apart? 

Give WI 'merit' plan shelving civil service a demerit

Wisconsin GOP ideologues running their one-party show intend to further embed their partisan control and policy agendas across the state government.

Having spent nearly five years hammering and devaluing public service, attacking voting rights and non-partisan oversight of campaigns, corroding the publicly-spirited Wisconsin Idea state mission and starving public education at the elementary, secondary and university levels, the corporate servants occupying the Governor's office and legislative leadership positions are now out to get rid of civil service hiring, promotion and firing rules in favor of what is being called merit, or resume-based procedures.

Wink-wink.

And the justification - - a handful of bad apples, thus blowing up the entire system - - is like the Right's installation of Voter ID in Wisconsin based on anecdotal and alleged irregularities.

Walker says the new state hiring process will be "transparent."

Give me a break, and LOL. Check the record.

Bottom line: No one has asked for the changes. No task force, no outpouring at a hearing, no polling, nothing. It's all politics - - an extension of Act 10, right-to-work, the unwinding of the prevailing wage, the refusal to raise the minimum wage, etc.

If these hard-edged reactionaries have their way gaining more hiring and firing powers, every state employee will basically become an at-will member of the Governor's staff because employment decisions top-to-bottom will be made at agencies and departments run by political appointees without the checks and balances of non-partisan civil service scrutiny.

Here's how it might all play out in a few months, I imagine:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recruiter from the Department of Natural Resources on the phone with Acme123 Headhunters, Inc.
Recruiter: Got a few openings to run past you.

Headhunter: Fire away.


Recruiter: We're looking for a DNR staff lawyer to review permits filed by dairies, mines, or developers.


Headhunter: Qualifications? 


Recruiter: Fine me someone already on a private sector payroll. Timber oil, plastics, construction, Big Ag. Don't send me anyone from a public defender office or the Sierra Club. And if they work at a law firm, I want a corporate plaintiff attorney, a business specialist. 
Don't waste my time with a trial lawyer.

Headhunter: Sure. That mindset. Permits are for approving. 

Recruiter: Across the board. Like our DOT says, contracts are for letting. Time is money.

Headhunter. Got it.


Recruiter: We also have a groundwater science position open. I want an industry chemist instead of someone teaching freshman chemistry three hours a week. I want someone who knows that that water is a commodity, the market is booming and rules and regulations get in the way. Time is money.


Headhunter: No problem.


Recruiter: We're also going to share a big-picture policy position with the Public Service Commission, so, again, business experience first. 


Headhunter: I'm looking at a utility planner right now.


Recruiter: Fossil fuels, OK. Wind or solar, forget it.


Headhunter: Looks like it's coal and natural gas. Took on the EPA.


Recruiter: Perfect. And make sure you run any names through that Walker recall petition data base. Don't waste my time with anyone who signed it.


Headhunter: Copy that.


Recruiter: And check the names against the campaign donation websites. If the letter "D" pops up, then that's "D" as in "Delete" right there. 


Headhunter: I understand. You guys are running a full-court press out there, right?


Recruiter: Right you are.



Friday, September 25, 2015

Downtown Milwaukee Lakefront design too sterile

Glad that Journal Sentinel arts critic Mary Louise Schumacher is promoting a conversation about the new downtown Milwaukee Lakefront development design competition.

Two words: Less concrete!

The Lakefront Gateway Plaza design by Graef includes a gentle pathway that offers several ways for pedestrians to sit, take in lake views and access a bridge.

City of Milwaukee

Meet the WI Legislature's expert on women's health

The DePere Republican isn't a doctor, but plays one in the Legislature:
Wisconsin lawmakers in the state Assembly voted on Thursday to block Planned Parenthood from receiving $3.5 million in federal funds. The proposal now awaits Senate action. 
The bill is one of three introduced by Rep. AndrĂ© Jacque, R-De Pere, tied to a larger debate over abortion. 
The bill, passed on a party-line vote, would prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X funds, diverting the money to other groups at the discretion of the state Department of Health Services. Another would place limits on how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program and the third would ban research conducted on fetal tissue obtained from abortions.

Photo from Jacque's official homepage.


WI hostile today to Pope's "right of the environment"



EPA to issue rules on smokestack greenhouse gases soon
Talk about a disconnect:

Pope Francis spoke today before the United Nations, defining and lauding a "right to the environment:
"Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity," he said.
Too bad his itinerary didn't include a stop in the Badger state, where he'd have seen that reactionary, corporatist ideologues running Wisconsin government are siding with polluters who are contaminating the drinking water, selling off the people's access to rivers, lake and streams and are working to spend tax money as insiders to foul the air.

In Wisconsin, we have the political right denying the people's legal and moral rights to clean air, water and land. Such is the anti-environmental state of the political environment in our once-progressive state.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Familiar, sad refrain - - more job cuts at Caterpillar

Caterpillar, headquartered in South Milwaukee and with a manufacturing plant obtained in the Bucyrus takeover in 2010, is planning layoffs in its operations. 

Again. 

The state isn't so open for business after all, as the some of the local production workers or the white-collar staff could get the axe.

Again.

Remember when that takeover went down?

Bucyrus shareholders did well - - Caterpillar paid a 32% premium for the stock, the outgoing Bucyrus boss was in line for a total compensation payout approaching an estimated $50 million, and Caterpillar Chief Executive Douglas Oberhelman was upbeat about the merged firm he was to lead:
The deal is the biggest splash yet by Mr. Oberhelman, who became chief on July 1. “It is a strong statement about our belief in the bright future of the mining industry,” he said.
And while Caterpillar made some promises to customers and products...
We acquired Bucyrus to better serve our customers 
The transaction combines two widely recognized and respected brands — both with deep expertise in mining and strong customer relationships — to provide mining companies with a highly complementary product line that better meets their increasingly complex requirements. 
We have no plans to eliminate Bucyrus products. 
One of the key drivers of the acquisition was a Caterpillar goal to offer more products to the mining industry. This acquisition gives Caterpillar the broadest line of surface and underground mining equipment in the world. Because there is very little overlap in their product lines, plans are to keep all Bucyrus products as part of the Cat equipment lineup. Caterpillar Global Mining is especially excited by the opportunity to begin serving underground coal customers.


Today's news again shows that takeovers and mergers can leave workers with nothing:
Caterpillar plans up to 5,000 job cuts as key markets slow
A storyline that fits with this 2013 history, and the handwriting-on the-wall that year:
Caterpillar cuts more jobs in Milwaukee area
And this even earlier this year, setting and advancing a trend: 

Caterpillar cuts Milwaukee workforce. Again.
When was the last time you heard about a corporate merger that actually led to new jobs and worker security? 

Make sure you read Dom Noth's informed reporting, here, and thanks to Dom for sending a link to a photo archive about Bucyrus labor and production. A sample:


Politician without credibility or moral authority to upend Civil Service

A vindictive and unacceptable preview of the next three years in Wisconsin:
Four years after repealing most collective bargaining for Wisconsin's public workers and three days after ending his presidential run, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is backing top Republican lawmakers' proposed overhaul of the state's civil service system for 30,000 employees, saying its safeguards against political patronage in hiring and firing state workers need to keep up with the times and with the coming crush of retiring baby boomers.
The double-speak and deception here is breath-taking, as the allegedly-small government Walker already removed many top positions from civil service and turned them into lucrative political appointments.

And has remade the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources into an arm of the corporate elite  - - the special-interest opposite of civil service - - while he and his party also want to delay future state employees' retirements and change the formulas on which retirement checks are calculated.


None of which is being sought by anyone other than the same anti-union ideologues who provoked the Act 10 demonstrations, and which Walker has used for years as talking point fodder.

Call it Havoc Wrecking or the War on Workers 2.0 - - 3.0 if we include the Right-to-Work & Prevailing Wage Assault.

I argued in February, 2011 that Walker's slim 2010 margin of victory did not give him the moral authority to overturn 50 years of collective bargaining history, and I make the same argument today that a similar margin of victory in 2014, and his national dismissal earlier this week again suggest he is overstepping his role.


And remember his earlier pants-on-fire misrepresentation of civil service as he defended his Act 10 power grab?


There is no need for this latest attack on public sector employees other than one politician's continuing need for ego validation by an ideological base he needs to win back.

As citizens organize, a public consultant could review Kohler golf plan

The Town of Wilson - - south of Sheboygan and ground zero for a proposed high-end golf course planned on a 247-acre, wetlands-rich nature preserve - - is deciding whether to hire a consulting company while the golf course proposal is in the midst of an environmental review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The golf course plan includes several acres within the DNR-managed Kohler-Andrae State Park along the Lake Michigan shoreline, adding to the controversy.


Additional construction and wetlands' filling permissions would be needed from the US Army Corps of Engineers, given the project's proximity to Lake Michigan, its potential impact on the already-contaminated Black River that runs through the property, and other water-related issues.

The blatant politicization at the DNR and struggles over other high-profile water and wetlands matters statewide have raised the project's profile; a consultant hired by the Town of Wilson could add an important perspective and inform some of the water controversies across Wisconsin.

A key matter: the consultant's scope of work, breadth of experience, resources and Town support, transparency, and so on.

The Friends of the Black River Forest, intent on preserving the land's natural state, but surely playing David to the Kohler family project's Goliath, is holding a fundraiser this Saturday: 
The Friends of the Black River Forest will hold a brat fry from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, at The Handlebar Bar and Grill, 5837 S. Business Dr., Town of Wilson...Visit www.friendsblackriverforest.org for more details.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

WI DNR board stops quick land sale to Walker donor

Remember when Walker and his hand-picked chamber-of-commerce-water carrier DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp tried and failed to convince the Wisconsin Legislature - - through the budget  - - to weaken the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board by wiping out much of its oversight authority?

Here's a good reason why that legislative failure was a win for the public: the board tabled a deal negotiated by DNR bureaucrats to sell prime lakefront land in northern Wisconsin to a major Walker campaign donor.

That news had broken last week, and came on the heels of an earlier uproar over the agency's plan to sell large amounts of prime public acreage surrounding trout ponds and headwaters in Northern Wisconsin - - and more parcels statewide, too.

Wisconsin's constitutionally-protected waterways and the public's rightful access to them have far less value if developers are allowed to build on and 'improve' them.

The people - - their water rights and the DNR's credibility already under attack - - need strong, not weakened public resource stewardship.




Props to the MMSD for added wetlands preservation

Always glad to highlight reporting about the wetlands and shoreline preservation work of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's - a fresh land purchase has been made in Northern Washington County by the MMSD's Greenseams program - - that helps to keep our watersheds healthy and clean.
a wetland in May
And thanks to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Don Behm for helping raising awareness about the public/private/non-profit partnerships that advance conservation in our region:
The district acquired its first property in the North Branch Milwaukee River watershed in December 2013. 
Greenseams owns or protects through easements 3,182 acres in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties.
And the more that the state bails on its water protection responsibilities, the greater is the need for strong local, regional and grassroots efforts on behalf of public water rights and land use initiatives. 

And what a huge vacuum there is to fill.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Can anyone translate this R. Kleefisch word salad?

I don't know what world she's been living in or what media she's been seeing, but it looks like she's inherited Scott Walker's difficulties with the English language:
"Gov. Walker took the great Wisconsin story from coast to coast," Kleefisch said in an interview. "The asset of having our economic development story just below the masthead of every newspaper, and on every lower-third graphic on television stations, I think is very advantageous."
Like this?
Chicago Tribune
Scott Walker's Wisconsin jobs agency gave out $124 million without review 
Or this? 
Washington Post
Scott Walker’s jobs record falls short of most of other GOP governors running
Or this:  
Minneapolis StarTribune

Wisconsin ranks 30th in private-sector job growth over 12-month period

About Wisconsin '16, '17, '18....

Looking ahead - - and regardless of whether Gov. Scott Walker serves another week, month or full term - - Robin Vos and Rebecca Kleefisch are waiting in the wings with organization and resources and echo-chamber supports, and an overwhelming GOP/conservative/anti-urban majority in the State Assembly (plus a lesser but real advantage in the State Senate), and a Wisconsin Supreme Court directed by corporate power with perhaps another right-winger about to get an early appointment, but progressives in Wisconsin are not united around an articulated and organized set of principles and goals though the elements and needs for such an agenda are all there - - broader health care, full women's rights, better transit, livable wages, unobstructed voting rights, an unimpeded Wisconsin Idea, guaranteed cleaner water and air, and more.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope's visit to boost climate change awareness, action

This is the kind of news and action that Pope Francis can generate
WASHINGTON – The University of Notre Dame will stop burning coal for electricity in response to Pope Francis’ call to action on climate change, the school’s president announced Monday.  
The Rev. John I. Jenkins also said Notre Dame will cut its carbon footprint by more than half by 2030.  
The reductions are the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the road, the school estimates. 
EPA to issue rules on smokestack greenhouse gases soon
Scenes like this don't have to be reality 




Walker still WI Governor, will fill sudden WI Supreme Court vacancy

Walker may be leaving the presidential race, but he's still Governor of the state where he's wrecked havoc with the environment, clean air, water rights, health care, women's rights, middle-class wages, minimum wages, collective bargaining and education for more than four years - -  and now, to underscore his continuing home state power, Walker will no doubt deepen the right's stranglehold on the State Supreme Court by elevating a conservative ideologue to the vacancy on the State Supreme Court after the surprising death today of incumbent Justice N. Patrick Crooks.

Crooks had announced he would not run for re-election next April and his term was to expire in August.

So all the policy issues here remain the same, and perhaps arguably worse - - as I predict some resurgence for Walker in the state polls on his return, assuming that he announces momentarily his campaign's effective end - - a strategically-solid move. 

Pick your model, private sector job creator

More on WI DNR's refusal to heed water court order

I'd posted a number of items - -- this year and last year, among others  - - about manure pollution from large Wisconsin cattle feeding operations, and the stunning decision last week by the intentionally-corporatized Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to ignore a court order to limit manure discharge by a giant cattle feeding operation in Kewaunee County that is contaminating neighbors' drinking water.
File:Confined-animal-feeding-operation.jpg
Here is an explanation of the issues by Midwest Environmental Advocates, representing some of the dairy's neighbors:
On Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a final decision to approve a water pollution permit for an industrial livestock operation expansion in Kewaunee County. The agency refused to uphold portions of an October 2014 Administrative Law Judge decision ordering the agency to use its authority under state law to limit the number of animals in the facility and to require a groundwater monitoring plan for pollution from manure landspreading. Petitioners in this case will review options for appeal...
“We disagree with the opinion of the DOJ on the authority of the DNR in using reasonable strategies to regulate industrial livestock operations’ waste,” said attorney Sarah Geers. “The DNR narrowly interprets state statutes in matters of the public’s welfare and interests in keeping our water resources clean. Yet the DNR broadly exercises its authority and disregards court decisions when it is in the interests of industry. This is not a legal problem. It is a problem of the influence of politics and industry over the execution of laws that protect the public from unmonitored and unlimited pollution in our water....”
Ultimately, the DNR’s “final agency decision” isn’t really final. It punts the responsibility of fighting for agency accountability back to the citizens who would have to spend more time and money to dispute this legal question in court. The DNR’s change of position to disregard a court order and the DOJ’s opinion on the agency’s authority to do so do not have legal merit and Kewaunee County petitioners would have good cause to argue on appeal.
And I wonder if anyone at the DNR ever gives a thought to how Wisconsin's official disregard of water stewardship by the agency these days is viewed across the Great Lakes basin as the DNR edges closer to sending Waukesha's controversial and precedent-setting application for a Lake Michigan diversion to the seven other Great Lakes states.

Whose unanimous consent for the diversion is needed for its implementation.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

With Walker & DNR, the past is prologue to the moment

The public's right to clean and accessible water in Wisconsin, and the government's failure to guarantee those rights is emerging, regrettably as the top conservation and environmental justice issue in our state.

Underscored by our having learned in the last few weeks that the Department of Natural Resources which Gov. Walker has deeply politicized intends on selling a large parcel of state land - - our land - - that surrounds a cluster of northern Wisconsin trout ponds in Langlade County which feeds other streams downriver - - our waters, public waters - -  and, separately, plans to sell a different parcel of prime shoreline prime public acreage along Rest Lake in Vilas County to a major campaign donor.

Details and links here.
Canoeing
Three events among many highlight the transformation of the DNR under Walker into an ideological and political tool:

*  His appointment to the top DNR post of developer Cathy Stepp  - - a brazen enemy in her own words of the DNR's scientific and conservationist mission - - because she had what Walker called a "chamber of commerce mentality."

Little wonder that pollution inspections and enforcement actions fell precipitously, or that one million-gallon farm manure spill into a creek landed the offender with a $464 fine, or that political-insider strings were pulled at the DNR to ease the consequences for a septic hauler who spread excess human waste on farm fields near well water, or that the DNR is now choosing not to enforce a judge's ruling designed to keep drinking water clean near a big dairy.

*  Walker's administrative suspension of a high-profile DNR permitting process in the earliest days of his first term - - a suspension later bolstered by a bill rushed through the Legislature which Walker signed to legalize and enable the wetland filling - - so a Walker campaign-donor/developer could fill and build a destination outdoors equipment store in a wetland near Lambeau Field.

*  The routing to a conservative advocacy group for the benefit of Walker's 2012 recall campaign of a $700,000 donation from an out-of-state mining company which had hoped to dig a miles-long open-pit iron ore mine across the Penokee Hills and Bad River watershed in Northwest Wisconsin - - to have been enabled by a mining 'reform' bill which Walker backed and signed into law.

Decision-making about public water and land to serve donors and friendly businesses - - including mega-dairies, utilities, road-builders - - and ideologues at the people's expense has been Walker's pattern since the beginning of his administration.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

WI DNR sells primo public property to Walker donor

[Updated] Nothing surprises us now in Wisconsin. Havoc has been wrecked, time and time again in the land of Gaylord Nelson, Aldo Leopold and John Muir. And repeatedly it is the once-great Department of Natural Resources - - entrusted with stewardship
Canoeing
of the people's land, air and waters - - that is at the center of our state's degradation and collective disgust:
DNR agrees to sell prime lake frontage to big Scott Walker donor
Leading conservationist and former DNR Secretary George Meyer pretty much summed up this outrage:
"Selling prime shoreland on a northern Wisconsin lake is a terrible precedent,"said former Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer, who is executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. 
Props to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Lee Bergquist for his strong reporting about the deal to sell this frontage on Rest Lake, in Vilas County, and to the paper for its Sunday, page-one placement.

And shame on me for saying the DNR had hit a new low just a few weeks ago over another atrocious land sale. I apologize for my optimism.


Remember that these outcomes were virtually guaranteed more than two years ago when the Legislature gave Walker the power to sell any state asset - - even the State Capitol:

Plan To Sell Wisconsin State Properties Without Bids Invites Corruption
The Walker administration wants the right to sell public assets - - from highways to prisons to university dormitories - - through private, no-bid procedures, reports the Journal Sentinel...
Talk about back-door policy-making, using public assets to make private, special interests even richer. 
To pick winners and losers, to defeat local control, and taxation with representation. 
Legislators who are comfortable with giving away taxpayer-paid properties to reward insider influence practically begs for flat-out corruption - - contributions for buyer access, Pay For Play II - - should vote for the plan. 
And also remember that DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, a former home builder put atop the once-preservationist agency by Scott Walker because she had the "chamber of commerce mentality" he wanted, was an early and continuing champion of DNR land sales, opposed the state's long-standing Knowles-Nelson Stewardship land acquisition program, never complained as the Legislature moved to mandate a 10,000-acre sales program - - a round-number pulled out of some lobbyist's hat, no doubt - - and does not deserve cover on the issue, as has been provided before. 

America's ongoing war on minority school kids

In just the last few weeks, from a five-year-old in California...
Parents Say 5-Year-Old Son Was Unfairly Punished For His Hair, File Discrimination Complaint Against School
To a seven-year-old in Utah...
Native American boy pulled from class over Mohawk haircut
To a fourteen-year-old in Texas...
Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed creates clock, shows teachers, gets arrested
School officials are disrespecting and traumatizing the children they are supposed to nurture and protect. Our culture has a lot of post-slavery, post-Native American conquest, current fear of Muslims' work to do.

More proof that Milwaukee East side needs city rail

Yet another spiffy project near the residential and retail hub at North and Prospect Avenues accelerates the very density that city rail should eventually serve.

Roughly halfway between downtown and UW-M, and a stone's throw from the lakefront; it's a better-transit no-brainer.

Friday, September 18, 2015

More developments in mega-dairy/water law WI coup

I've been posting recently about the WI DNR's regression on the protection of public water rights in the state, - - more here, too - - so I appreciate the MalContends blog in Madison for advancing this unbelievable story:

State regulators are enabling groundwater contamination - - in a state where all the water belongs to the public - - despite a judge's order which both the DNR and DOJ refuse to honor.

DNR Secretary Stepp reduces the disgusting and hazardous pollution near the dairy in question to "some water quality challenges."
"We realize areas in the northeastern part of the state are experiencing some water quality challenges and we at the DNR are doing what is within the confines of current law to address the situation.
Law and disorder, but drink up!

AZ Congressman, (R), proves link between human activity, climate idiocy

I'm betting The Pope won't care about this doofus:
WASHINGTON — A Republican lawmaker said he will boycott Pope Francis’ speech to Congress next week because of the possibility the pontiff will discuss his support for policies to fight climate change.

NE WI media covering DNR manure pollution fail

I'd noted the impact of a recent DNR/Department of Justice tag team decision that intentionally disregards a judge's order limiting the size of a big Kewaunee County dairy operation because of manure-related drinking water pollution.

The ruling's arrogance was yet another regrettable example of how corporate interests in the state have been given control over water rights through Scott Walker's 'chamber-of-commerce mentality,' forcing citizens to spend their time and money fighting the government they support through taxes and fees for land and water quality that should be top public public priorities.


I thought you might be interested in how the Door County Pulse in neighboring Door County is covering the broad legal, political and environmental issues involved.


Pretty comprehensively:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced on Sept. 11 that it is unable to comply with two orders that were handed down last October by Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt in the matter of a pollution discharge permit for Kinnard Farms in Kewaunee County. 
In granting a petition filed by Kinnard Farms for the modification of the farm’s Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a statement that the agency would not comply with Judge Boldt’s order to set a maximum number of cows the farm can have and that it would not require the farm to set up an offsite groundwater monitoring system...
“The DNR narrowly interprets state statutes in matters of the public’s welfare and interests in keeping our water resources clean, [said a petitioners' attorney]. Yet the DNR broadly exercises its authority and disregards court decisions when it is in the interests of industry. This is not a legal problem. It is a problem of the influence of politics and industry over the execution of laws that protect the public from unmonitored and unlimited pollution in our water.” 


The Pulse also recently ran a nice piece about some of the area's leading water quality activists and their organization, Kewaunee Cares, and I've noted the important work going on there, too.

Remember, Wisconsin water belongs to everyone, and access to it is guaranteed by Article IX of the state constitution.