Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WI DNR's Stepp lauds lead pipe removal plan that screws Milwaukee

Drip, drips goes the propaganda:

Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp is bragging about a drop-in-the-bucket state plan that will replace but a fraction of lead pipes carrying drinking water to homes occupied statewide by low-income residents even though the penny-pinching program directs most of the money away from Milwaukee - -a minority-majority city where most of the state's low-income urban residents and potentially-dangerous lead pipes are located.

These Walkerites have no shame.

MAL Contends...blog on Wisconsin CAFO's a must-read

Wisconsin under Walker has degraded into corporate subsidiary status, so make sure you read this blog on that very subject and circulate its crucial information and images. I put the offering from the Mal Contends…blog on Facebook over the weekend and it's getting a lot of deserved attention:

Family Farms, Yes; Corporate Agriculture, No

Industrialized agriculture is spreading in Wisconsin and across the nation.

It's toxic, cruel, predatory and without conscience.

This corporate model is also the first step towards foreign ownership of large swaths of American land on which foreign-owned 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Road to Sprawlville could pass through Verona, WI

Looks like Verona, WI - - a Madison suburb with about 12,000 residents and a website touting its "small-town feel of Hometown USA" - - might convert farmland to multiple-purpose development, but the story about it all isn't focused on potential local tax increases, water and sewer demand, transit, school expansion, road-building, etc:
Hay was still being cut last week on part of the 253 acres of farmland David Reinke owns on this city’s southeast side. 
But someday those fields could yield a colossal retail, office, housing and entertainment development valued at more than $500 million.
So I'm making these issues the 66th installment in an occasional blog series, "The Road to Sprawlville."

And maybe it's just a coincidence, but here's a link to Chapter 65, just a few months ago: 

WI Legislature just designated Dane the official Sprawl County

In this the 65th installment of the blog series The Road to Sprawlville, we note that the GOP-run/special-interest serving State Legislature has just loosened planning procedures, greatly empowering developers in the Dane County they love to hate. 
With negative consequences for farmland, groundwater, traffic and more.
By state law, mind you, and not the people of the county. 
There are 72 counties in Wisconsin, but the pro-developer law applies only to Dane.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Scott Walker's latest, greatest power-play scam

You think you're inured to the handouts, insider privileges and room service provided by Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker to corporations, campaign donors and the wealthy: tax breaks, a phony, politicized, easy-money jobs agency that has created better work for lawyers and auditors, special legislation for mining companies and wetland-fillers, watered-down inspections for manure-spilling feedlots and easy permits for sand mines and tar-sand oil pipelines.

You say we've seen it all; his unconscionable attack on Planned Parenthood and women's health care, his rejection of expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income residents, his reduction of food stamp assistance combined with mandatory drug testing, and even increased taxation on the working poor and elderly by slashing federal and state tax credits.

We've been forced to accommodate Walker's-partisan-governance by surprise, deceit, fiat, favoritism, bad or non-existent data or public input - - demolished civil service, blown-up university tenure and budgets, bludgeoned public service collective bargaining and local residency standards, unjustified voter photo ID, reduced early voting hours, eliminated  long-standing state-supported recycling and public land acquisition programs only partially restored by legislators, slashed K-12 public school financing with huge dollar transfers to an ideologically-based private school sector.

But his latest scam is some sort of record-setting combination of con and disruption and reward to the private sector at the expense of Wisconsin citizens - - you guessed it - - who are not well equipped to fight back.

I'm talking about his 'plan' to quickly upend, dislocate and relocate - - without their consultation or approval - - tens of thousands of disabled citizens now living in carefully-constructed, time-tested, home care arrangements to - - you guessed it - - private insurance companies, with their paperwork and rules and bureaucracies, and - - you know it - - their need to make a buck.

Make sure you read Guy Boulton's compelling Sunday piece in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, with this important takeaway:
Other states have started with pilot programs, testing the model first to see what works and what doesn't.  
In contrast, Wisconsin would adopt the new program in a single stroke, basically blowing up the system for providing long-term care, which was built over almost two decades... 
For insurance companies, the proposal — which unexpectedly was part of Gov. Scott Walker's budget last year — could mean tens of millions of dollars in profits a year.
There you have it - - the train wreck that is the Walker administration - - 
Fiery oil train wreck, Galena, IL
 - - renewed for another four years in 2014 and enabled by a grossly distorted and gerrymandered State Legislature and State Supreme Court majority as much in the tank for its corporate donors as is Walker.

Walker's WI Idea 'drafting error' lie is editorial acid test

[Updated from 3:30 p.m., Friday, 5/28] I hope Wisconsin newspapers and electronic media with editorial boards or commentators, without any contorted reach for false equivalencies or small-picture framing - - and with clarity and gusto - - call out Scott Walker for the "drafting error" lie he told about his rewrite of the UW system's guiding Wisconsin Idea, and for his stone-walling effort at taxpayer expense to hide the truth by illegally withholding records, and for trying to end-run the legislature administratively by creating a self-serving exemption in the state's foundational Open Records law to justify the records' withholding.

And let's not have editorial boards bury their commentary in low-audience holiday weekend air time or editions, as that would only compound Walker's having buried the truth and the records that proved it in the first place.

Details, background, the bigger picture and a link to the records broken free by judicial order Friday, here

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Possible new Trump U. class offered

The class will be offered on line, and does not count for credit.

Its sessions will include: How to embarrass your country, How to lose an election; How to campaign as a provocateur, How to manipulate white supporters, How to destroy the Republican Party, and How to guarantee a lawsuit defeat, and, perhaps, How to force a trial judge recusal.

The class will have only one assigned reading:
In San Diego, Trump shames local ‘Mexican’ judge as protesters storm streets
Paul Ryan and others whose schedules still have openings would do well to sign up. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

More Scott Walker scuzzy behavior revealed

It turns out that in the office of Wisconsin Governor and secretive policy-maker Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Idea - - his Wisconsin Idea - - is more about deniability and authoritarian policy-making than open government which the UW System's public service Wisconsin Idea mission statement has nurtured and applied statewide for generations.

You may remember that Walker got caught last year trying to sneak through a rewrite of the iconic Wisconsin Idea mission statement as part of his plan to diminish the UW system, faculty tenure and especially the appeal and impact of the system's flagship campus in liberal Madison:

Walker is still parsing, spinning and not coming completely clean about what he knew, and when, about gutting the UW mission statement on his way to gutting the UW's budget and purpose. 
And since we all know this FUBAR is not Walker's first trip to The Fact-Free Rodeo - - nor his sole finger-pointing relapse - - or his only high-profile failure to own up to behind-the-scenes activities... 
But did you know that the Walker administration had refused since throwing out the "drafting error" chaff to release official emails about the mission statement rewrite, thus flouting the Open Records law and trying to create administratively for Walker and his allies a new records withholding privilege - - the executive equivalent of 'activist legislating' from the bench which the right-wing yells about with the same vigor as 'Benghazi,' or "Transgender bathroom crisis," etc.

So look at what happened earlier in a Wisconsin District Court today after a judge had enough of withheld emails and truths, and improper, closed governmental, too:

Records released Friday by Gov. Scott Walker’s office in response to a judge’s order make clear he sought controversial changes in 2015 to the University of Wisconsin System’s mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea...
The Walker administration later backed down from proposed changes to the mission statement, calling them a “drafting error,” and they were not included in the 2015-17 budget.
The judge also rejected an effort by the Walker administration to keep the emails secret under an exemption "which has not been recognized in Wisconsin and flies in the face of long-held policies underlying Wisconsin’s Open Records Law,” {Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy] Smith said.
Here is a link to the withheld emails released under a court order. Talk about The Wisconsin Idea, undermined.

And don't you feel you've repeatedly seen this unseemly pattern involving Walker, emails and bad governance?

* Remember when it was revealed that a Milwaukee County staffer in Walker's Milwaukee County Executive suite was misusing the Internet for partisan purposes on County time - - which led to the disclosure that Walker's staffers had set up a secret Internet system a few few feet from the boss' door to do campaign work on county time? 

* Look who was at the center of it all, according to this February, 2014 story:

Thousands of documents unsealed Wednesday link Gov. Scott Walker to a secret email system used in his office that would avoid public scrutiny when he was Milwaukee County executive.
* As a later story further explained
Scott Walker’s Milwaukee County staff had a code name for his gubernatorial campaign with which they secretly coordinated strategy and messaging nearly every day: “the dark side...”

Current Time0:00
Duration Time0:00
Loaded: 0%
Progress: 0%
MueCounty staff also used private emails to conduct campaign business and communicate with Walker and his campaign staff, sometimes during regular working hours...County staff also used private emails to conduct campaign business and communicate with Walker and his campaign staff, sometimes during regular working hours.
* Some of those staffers enjoyed exchanging racist emails.

* Then there were the emails among Walker campaign and county staffers about keeping information "buried" about a female patient who had starved to death in a county facility until after the Nov. 2, 2010 gubernatorial election.

* And emails which showed Walker involved in sanitizing media and public reaction to the death of a boy killed by falling concrete at a Milwaukee County parking garage:
Gov. Scott Walker worked simultaneously with his campaign staff and county aides in coordinating responses to media inquiries, open records requests and news stories about the 2010 O'Donnell Park tragedy, according to newly released emails. 
The records show that Walker was integrally involved in the efforts to challenge any negative publicity after a concrete panel fell from the Milwaukee County-owned O'Donnell parking structure, killing a 15-year-old boy on June 24, 2010, on his way to Summerfest. The incident occurred in the middle of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
So back to the Friday-before-a-long-holiday-weekend news dump today about a judge's order to release the withheld Wisconsin Idea emails that proved Walker - - and not "a drafting error' - - were at the core of the mission statement rewriting scheme?

Say you are not surprised, Bucky. 

Trump locks up GOP nomination in style [sic]

There is a sick but deserved chickens-coming-home-to roost symmetry for Republicans - - once the party of social justice and Abraham Lincoln and now now the party of voter suppression and Old Angry White Men - - that the casino-operating-and-products-hawking Donald Trump sewed up the nomination for the most powerful office in the country, and also, arguably, on the planet, with a loud outburst of personal smears against women and minorities targeted at Hillary Clinton, NM Gov. Susana Martinez and Elizabeth Warren.

This caricature, this distortion of leader, elected official, statesman and role model is all yours, Republicans. He didn't capture your party - - he's your chauvinistic, anger-worshipping, Clinton-hating, minority-bullying fantasy come to life.
Donald Trump August 19, 2015 (cropped).jpg
He and the Right are exactly where they ought to be. Enjoy your long night of political and electoral, self-inflicted irrelevance while the rest of the country with its changing demographics and expanding conscience moves forward without you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Wiley's firing dredges up 'failed' Walker campaign

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump fired his political director Rick Wiley after a mere six weeks on the job, which put Scott Walker and a negative brand back in the news:

*   NBC News:

Wiley was the former campaign manager for the failed Scott Walker campaign.
*  US News & World Report:
Before joining Trump, Wiley was the manager of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's failed presidential campaign. 
Walker folded his campaign after just 71 days, having overspent his fundraising while collapsing in the polls.
*  USA Today:
Wiley is the former executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party and he ran Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's  ill-fated presidential campaign. Many pundits blamed Wiley for Walker's quick exit from the nomination battle after the campaign hired a massive campaign staff and quickly burned through its funds.
*  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, with a USA Today byline:
Veteran Republican political operative Rick Wiley, who ran Scott Walker's ill-fated presidential campaign and was then hired as Donald Trump's national political director in April, is already being shown the door by the Trump campaign.
The Daily Mail
Wiley joined the campaign just six weeks ago, having managed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's failed presidential campaign.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Walker praises latest Trump target - - but without mentioning Trump

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump dumped on GOP New Mexico Gov. and Republican Governors Association (RGA) national chairperson Susana Martinez last night in her home state - - a startlingly stupid move which left many GOP observers worried about their disintegrating party - - so tonight Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker - - the RGA vice chair - - defended Martinez's record and value in an RGA-issued news release.

Without criticizing Trump.

And Walker does not say in the release why Martinez might need support right now.

Does anyone believe the RGA release in Walker's name is unrelated to Trump's attack on Martinez?

Wisconsin's Governor, intimidated.

Walker, Schimel join Bigoted Bathroom Brigade

Wisconsin's leading elected right-wing bigots shamefully and self-servingly help drive the state far from its history and deeper into the nation's political backwater, taking with it the state's appeal as a place for hate-free folk to move, live, start a business, put down roots and generally be proud of their surroundings:
Wisconsin joins lawsuit over Obama bathroom rules for transgender students
As a long piece in The New York Times recently concluded: 
The Destruction of Progressive Wisconsin

New Trump fundraiser sought WI DNR land sale jackpot

The Journal Sentinel reports that Diane Hendricks, a Beloit construction company magnate, and Elizabeth Uihlein, a Pleasant Prairie businesswoman, are newly-minted Donald Trump-for-President fundraisers.

Hendricks, the Scott Walker's billionaire super-donor, is well-known to Wisconsinites - - after all, she was on video hearing 
Walker's whispered "divide-and-conquer" secret - -  but remember when Elizabeth Uihlein and her husband Richard got Walker's DNR to agree to sell them some primo state land? 
Elizabeth Uihlein, a major donor to Gov. Scott Walker, has reached an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources to buy 1.75 acres of prime lakefront property in Vilas County — a deal that gives her direct lake access to another property she now owns. 
The agreement calls for the DNR to sell Uihlein 765 feet of frontage on Rest Lake in the Town of Manitowish Waters for $275,000. She currently owns an adjacent 11-unit condominium complex without lake access.
Public pressure helped delay that deal, and eventually take it off the table  - - teachable moments, all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WI DNR Drinking Water/Groundwater chief confirms retirement

Jill Jonas, a longtime Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staffer and the Director of the Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, confirmed to me by email today that she is retiring on June 6th.

I had asked Jonas "if your retirement is at all early in any sense, related to any policy or institutional differences with the agency or administration, or is as you had planned it as your personal decision," and she replied that it was "my personal decision."

The Bureau is responsible for a number of high-profile matters, including safe drinking water - - a current hot topic - - concentrated animal feeding operations, high-capacity wells and the Great Lakes Compact, among others, according to a WI DNR website.

Eric Ebersberger, a senior DNR staffer who had managed the DNR's review of Waukesha's application for a diversion of Great Lakes water under the terms of the Great Lakes Compact notified the DNR last Friday that May 27th would be his last day.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lead WI DNR staffer on Waukesha diversion has resigned

Eric Ebersberger, Deputy Division Administrator of the Environmental Management Division of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, confirmed to me by email this afternoon that he had submitted his resignation from the agency:
My last day as Deputy Division Administrator will be 5/27; but I’ll continue with the Waukesha project through June.
I'd begun hearing about this earlier today, had posted this item but wanted confirmation before I used Ebersberger's name:
Inquiries to WI DNR about another senior staff resignation
He'd given his notice last Friday.

Ebersberger is a widely-respected career state employee and popular staffer within DNR; some of his biographical information appeared in a posting on this blog a year ago when he was last promoted. 

Inquiries to WI DNR about another senior staff resignation

Waiting for confirmation from DNR Secretary Stepp.

Major staff/environmental policy implications.

Stay tuned.

Walker's interest in debt

Why Walker's WI job losses are Trumpian

Because they're YUGE:
The state lost 11,500 private-sector jobs in April, 0.5 percent of the workforce, according to preliminary, seasonally adjusted estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
If the figures stand up to revisions, it will be the state's biggest monthly jobs drop since July 2009, during the Great Recession.

Friday, May 20, 2016

News that WI is adding low-wage jobs is old news

It's common knowledge that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker failed to fulfill his pledge to create 250,000 new private-sector jobs in one term.

And while I appreciate the recent reporting that jobs being added in Wisconsin are predominately low-wage:

Marquette University Economist Weighs In On Walker's Economic Optimism 
Chowdhury Says Walker Administration Is Creating Jobs But They're Low-Skill, Low-Wage Ones
I remember reading basically the same thing in a 2014 paper by UWM economics professor Marc Levine:
During the 2007-2010 recession employment in Wisconsin declined across all wage levels, although the losses were heavily concentrated in occupations paying “middle wages” (90 percent of the 2007-2010 job losses in Wisconsin were in middle-wage occupations). Finally, between 2010-2013, employment continued to decline in both middle and high wage occupations in Wisconsin; all of the net job growth between 2010-2013 occurred in low wage occupations. More troubling still: over 60 percent of the 2010-2013 growth of employment in low-wage occupations in Wisconsin occurred in very low-wage occupations – those with median hourly wages below $10.00 (in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars).
So the experts in Madison and Milwaukee agree.

No doubt this Walker Mission Accomplished trend will continue because Walker has refused to consider raising the $7.25 minimum wage - - his definition of a living wage - - and also signed 'right-to-work' legislation and a so-called prevailing wage law (currently blocked by a judge) that together will depress wages in the public and private sectors.

Or as he calls it, 'moving in the right direction,' or "the comeback."'

More Madison job losses = Walker Mission Accomplished

[Updated] Faculty leaving the UW-Madison.

And now a big layoff at the former Anchor Bank, charmingly and ironically now called Old National, because since Walker's January, 2011 swearing-in, what's an older story in and around the State Capitol than that Walker-250,000 new jobs promise that is still about 40% unfulfilled.

In WalkerWorld, any move, relocation and departure from the capital city, whether from the meat cutters union at Oscar Mayer, or banking positions or any state agency, UW program or classroom is considered a win by Walker and the GOP that will pay off in every voter-photo-ID-rigged election on the horizon.

Ditto for Team Walker's hostility to heavily-Democratic Milwaukee, too, where Walker's resistance to raising the minimum wage, or enforcement of cuts to food stamps, or disinterest in transit, or new deep cuts to UW-Milwaukee programs and staff are all designed to encourage out-migration and discourage newcomers from putting down roots.

Look: Walker and his city-corroding, union-busting, Madison-bashing, tenure-hating Legislative and special-interest friends would close down the flagship campus, disperse its liberal faculty - - after flat-out lying about them - - keep the student body debt-ridden through state inaction and drive every Democratic-leaning-or-voting resident far away if they could.

I've written about Walker's political strategy to displace certain people and groups from Wisconsin:

Again, "good riddance" is in the air, and in state policy, too, like a new official motto or state slogan.  It used to be "We like it here." Now it's more along the lines of, "We'd like some of you, a lot of you, to leave."
His goal is to flip the state from purple to red, and he's proving me right everyday: 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Despite enforcement disregard, WI DNR assigned diversion oversight

Yesterday I called out a Great Lakes water advisory group for recommending - - their findings, their website - - the precedent-setting diversion of Lake Michigan water to the City of Waukesha and its waste water return flow plan.

I noted that the advisory group is recommending oversight and implementation responsibilities roles for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - the same DNR that has a documented, weak track record during the Walker years of ineffective pollution controls, disregarded environmental issues statewide, and laissez-faire permit inspection and enforcement actions
for which the DNR's ex-developer Secretary and Walker appointee says she has no apologies.

The diversion advisory group - - see, for example, item F, p. 11 in its findings - - specifies the DNR "should use all of its available legal authority…" as its guide.

C'mon: "All of its its available legal authority." Seriously? 

The Great Lakes advisory body should know:

*  Since 2011, the Wisconsin DNR has failed spectacularly to use all its its available and assigned legal authority under the US Clean Water Act to guarantee clean water to the people of Wisconsin.

*  In fact, the DNR and the state were notified by the US Environmental Protection Agency in a jaw-dropping letter - - full text, long file - - and that Wisconsin had seventy-five clean water act compliance deficiencies which demanded immediate corrective action.

*  And the Walker administration and the DNR have not corrected those seventy-five deficiencies.

That failure has led Wisconsin citizens to formally petition the EPA - - at their own expense through the public interest attorneys at Midwest Environmental Advocates - - to force the DNR to do its job and follow the law to guarantee clean water in Wisconsin.

Notably, several dozen former DNR officials have signed on to the petition: this is no small effort, its import is significant and should be carefully studied by the eight Great Lakes governors who will soon make the final decision on the diversion and return flow plan as recommended by the advisory group.

Here are more details from MEA about the Wisconsin DNR's performance which the Great Lakes advisory group seems to have overlooked:

Petition to EPA: Wisconsin Fails to Comply with Clean Water Act

Oct 20, 2015
Today, on behalf of 16 Petitioners from across the state of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a Petition for Corrective Action with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to request action by both federal and state agencies to bring Wisconsin back into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Wisconsin citizens petitioning the EPA have long-standing water problems from poor implementation and enforcement of the landmark federal law.
“Today, Petitioners are exercising a right granted by federal law to ask the EPA to require our state Department of Natural Resources to issue water pollution permits in compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Staff Attorney Tressie Kamp. “If our DNR and state legislators do not take timely action, the Petition asks that the EPA take back the DNR’s power to issue permits to industries that discharge pollutants into Wisconsin’s waters.”
In 2011, the EPA sent a letter to the DNR outlining 75 points where the state government was out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act through a lack of clear or effective implementation, enforcement or proper legal authority for the state. Since then, changes in the agency’s rulemaking process, staffing and authority within the agency’s water pollution permitting program, and circumvention of court-ordered pollution controls, in addition to cuts in the agency’s budget and science staff, have all culminated in this urgent, statewide call for action. The Petition requests that the EPA works with the DNR to establish enforceable timelines for compliance.
“The Petition for Corrective Action is important and justified because it’s been over four years—and in some instances, much longer—since the EPA put our DNR on notice that Wisconsin does not issue water pollution permits in full compliance with the federal laws that protect clean water all over our country,” said Kamp.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Same Wisconsin agency enabling polluters given water diversion oversight role

The polluters
Smoke stacks from a factory.
keep winning and winning and the citizens keep losing and losing
because the public-sector haters in office and their corporate GOP-based signal-callers with rich campaign donations at the ready are running all three branches of Wisconsin government.

I've lost count of the number of times on this blog I've noted the intentionally-weakened pollution enforcement actions by Scott Walker's "chamber of commerce mentality" Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - and yet here we have fresh data about the precipitous enforcement decline noted on the same day that representatives of the Great Lakes governors (except Minnesota) are recommending a precedent-setting diversion of Lake Michigan water that includes a controversial wastewater discharge in the Root River through Racine to be monitored on behalf of the Great Lakes region by…the same Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Remember the DNR's $464 fine for a million-gallon manure spill, some of which reached a creek?

Or the DNR's refusal to follow a judge's order to rein in manure contamination of rural drinking water supplies?

Which is what you get when self-regulation and voluntary compliance is the new DNR 'philosophy' for the once-regulated.

As I'd said recently, and which the news today about the Wisconsin DNR's tolerance of polluters reinforces, why would these other states' officials entrust the Wisconsin DNR under Walker - - and I mean the top political appointees, not the dedicated line staffers trying to hold the line despite layoffs and budget cuts and heavy-handed politicized supervision from the top down - - with a shred of responsibility for the monitoring of such a precedent-setting undertaking involving the people's water?

Federal appeals court Judge Diane Sykes on Trump's 11-name SCOTUS list

Hardly a surprise given her resume and far-right credentials, but would age rule her out?
Apart from Sykes, who is 58, the others all are younger than 55 and David Stras is just 41. The eight men and three women on the list are all white.

Waukesha diversion, with conditions, moved closer to approval, but...

[Updated at 3:22 p.m.] An advisory body this morning representing eight Great Lakes US states and two Canadian provinces moved Waukesha's precedent-setting application for a diversion of water to the region's final decision-makers - - the eight US governors only - - with a number of conditions I outlined in a posting yesterday.

Basically, the advisory body cut the physical area to which Waukesha could ship the water, reduced the  volume of water which can be diverted, requires Waukesha to do some water quality monitoring and testing along its waste water return route in the Root River through Franklin and Racine, and would further limit new groundwater pumping in the Lake Michigan watershed that could negate the net benefit to the watershed which Waukesha and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have said would result when Waukesha substitutes lake water for its current deep-well, aquifer-depleting water pumping.

The recommendation, through an amendment by Minnesota. also grants "any Party" - - presumably a Compact member - - the right to intervene in subsequent, diversion-related actions. In early posts, I had used the word "citizens," thus likely overstating who had this access.
The advisory body's website is here.

Groups opposing the diversion had this to say:

“We are pleased that the Regional Body agreed with us that Waukesha’s proposal as submitted does not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact and is recommending modifications to its proposal. But we are disappointed that the Regional Body did not completely reject Waukesha’s flawed diversion proposal. We need to carefully examine the conditions that the Regional Body has recommended to determine if they uphold the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact. When complete, we will forward our assessment to the jurisdictions and the Regional Compact Council, which is scheduled to meet on June 21 or 22.” 
Curiously, Minnesota's representative, citing the need for more study, abstained from voting on the recommendations. It is unclear how much time Minnesota needs to get its remaining questions answered, or precisely what those questions are, or whether the abstention is a signal that Minnesota's Governor will cast an eventual "no" vote at the Governors' final decision-making meeting in a few weeks.

Minnesotans overwhelmingly opposed the diversion application - - as did people across the entire Great Lakes region. In the thousands, by a ration of 99:1 against.

The application's review and approval vote are governed under a 2008 US/Canadian Compact incorporated into US law.

Under that law, any "no" vote from a US Great Lakes Governor would kill the application - - but would not rule out a revised application, additional reviewes, etc.

It is also not clear how the Great Lakes governors will guarantee their several diversion conditions will be met or enforced - - a real question given that this is the first diversion application to go through the process - - and given the DNR's passive approach these days to enforcement, the Walker administration's proven disdain for regulation in the public interest, and the current Attorney General's newly-disclosed disinterest in water protections long guaranteed in Wisconsin law and included in the Wisconsin Constitution.

Remember that Walker is beholden to developers, and cheering Realtors before whom he signed a wetlands-filling bill - - and has been since the early hours of his administration in 2011- - in fact, here's a fresh wetland filling close to Waukesha's city borders enabled by Walker's anti-environmental agenda - - and remember, too, that Waukesha County routinely gives him his biggest trove of votes.

And I find it hard to believe that the boundary limitations of the reach of the proposed diversion's conditions will limit Waukesha's growth to the city's current borders.

The agreement does put a geographical limit on Waukesha's distribution of diverted water, but not necessarily to the future expansion of its city borders - - borders which were expanded freely over the years as developers brought annexations to the city even though everyone knew that the city had water supply issues that someday had to be addressed.

I would not be surprised if growth-happy, annexation-adoring Waukesha does not find a way to keep growing and serving developers with the blessing of the Walker administration (including the Legislature, the DNR, and/or the Public Service Commission) - - or through a regional water authority - - remember that 2007 development? - - a water supplying concept endorsed a few years ago by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Commission - -  a leading supporter of Lake Michigan diversions, plural - - and the agency that created without a public hearing and barely a whisper of initial public disclosure the expanded service territory map that essentially was thrown out by the diversion application's reviewers.

Could Waukesha still access nearby shallow well water through annexations or other means to separately serve newly acquired territory with non-Lake Michigan diverted water - - thus capturing more neighboring property's service charges, tax revenues and development potential.

In other words, the diversion application as recommended for final approval - - as I read it - - limits where Waukesha can send Great Lakes water, but does not create a hard-and-fast city border and growth boundary which can still be expanded creatively.

Side question - - how did the neighboring and smaller Town of Waukesha like being treated by the City of Waukesha and the regional planning commission for the let six years like a well-heeled-consultant-hiring, election-roiled-in-or-out-of-the-application ping pong ball?

Anyway - - the Governors have yet to cast their votes. Minnesota's path is unclear. Litigation over the advisory body's recommendations, or the states' final voting, is also unpredictable.

So stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MN, MI want more public interest/clout in Waukesha diversion plan

There are some interesting developments in the ongoing vetting by US and Canadian Great Lakes reviewers of Waukesha's precedent-setting application - - the reviewers' website is here - - for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan and its return as treated water via the Root River and the Racine Harbor.
I'd felt the reviewers' evolving "findings" were not strong on enforcement of a possible diversion agreement at the very time that GOP Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel had just given GOP legislators formal advice that undermined long-standing water access and quality protections guaranteed in the Wisconsin Constitution.

And while GOP Gov. Scott Walker had been for years weakening environmental enforcement and state water stewardship responsibilities and actions in favor of special interests across the state.

And while he has cut Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource science staff, and reduced enforcement actions in favor of so-called voluntary self-enforcement by 'regulated' businesses instituted by the "chamber of commerce mentality" leadership he placed intentionally atop the agency which .

All of which is well-known in Wisconsin, and also noted nationally.

Which is why I'd asked in a recent blog posting how the other Great Lakes states would entrust management to Walker, et al, of a first-of-its-kind diversion from the world's largest supply of fresh surface water which is owned as a public trust by eight Great Lakes states.

Now I don't want to get raise false hopes - - and I still think that Waukesha and the DNR gave short shrift to non-diversion alternatives - - but it may be that some of the other states' reviewers are in fact listening to the 11,000 commenters who weighed in 99:1 against the diversion, and have grasped that a diversion of Great Lakes water, if it is to be approved for a Wisconsin community, has to be tied to written requirements under a guiding 2008 US/Canadian water management Compact which flow directly from the Walker/Schimel disregard for public water rights.

*  First of all, the reviewers in early meetings trim back Waukesha's roughly 10-million-gallon-per-day maximum average diversion request to about 8.2 million gallons by deleting nearly all of a so-called expanded service territory which included acreage in parts of several of Waukesha's neighboring municipalities which had not asked for diverted water.

Even though Waukesha and the DNR had long argued that it was permissible to rope those communities into the application without their say-so.

In other words, the reviewers were saying no diverted water for sprawl, or for communities which never applied for it, or expressed a need for it, or had in place the kind of water conservation planning required, regardless of the WI DNR's thumbs-up.

* Now the reviewers are looking at two proposed, publicly-spirited amendments by other states' representatives to the proposed findings upon which a final "yes" or "no" vote by the eight US Great Lakes governors would be based.

One proposed amendment - - link here - - is a proposal from Michigan. It notes that because the diversion plan guarantees the creation of a net benefit for the Lake Michigan watershed, the finding should include an assignment to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that it "should use all of its legal authority" to prevent any groundwater withdrawals in the Lake Michigan watershed "that would reduce that benefit."

My personal observation: this amendment could be a counter to the Schimel argument that Wisconsin - - and this is where Walker and the Legislature are definitely headed - -  should make easier to operate new high-capacity wells for mega-daires or mines or other developments without taking into account the cumulative effects downstream.

Because any nine-year-old Wisconsin boy or girl with a fishing pole knows that too much water taken out of the ground upstream or that is allowed to flow back downstream from an industrial-scale dairy has a lot to with whether there are fish to catch or - - as data show - - clean water back home to drink.

Additionally, one close observer of the process said Waukesha seemed to know the contents of Schimel's ruling before it hit the media - - and that filtered out among some attending the reviewers' last round of meetings in Chicago - - indicating a close political connection that did not bode well for Great Lakes water stewardship and which could have fed the belief that stronger water protections were needed in the reviewers'  findings if a diversion agreement were to move towards approval.

Another proposed amendment to findings - - link here - - is a proposal from Minnesota. It would give "any Party" the right "to initiate actions to compel compliance" with of any part of the diversion agreement. That would address the lack of enforcement language in the reviewers' findings and boost the public's enforcement opportunities.

All of which puts more "public" and "trust" in the Public Trust Doctrine.

I can't say if these amendments will be approved by the reviewers, and later by the Governors, nor do I know how Walker, Schimel, Waukesha and Wisconsin's DNR reviewers will react to them.

But I interpret the amendments as endorsements for the people's ultimate ownership of the Great Lakes, and for the Public Trust Doctrine which has long-elevated the primacy of the public's benefit from all the waters of the Great Lakes.