Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hot potatoes piling up on WI DNR's partisan, polluted plate

I thought I'd post what's soon to immerse the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - the once-proud science and public health state agency now run with the pollution-protecting "chamber of commerce mentality" Scott Walker installed there to serve developers, campaign donors, corporate feedlot operators and other special interests - - while dissing the land, the water, clean air, and state taxpayers who still expect the DNR to follow, not disregard, law, Public Trust legacy and common sense.

*  Federally-ordered statewide compliance with the US Clean Water Act. This is a big deal, as the US Environmental Protection Agency told the Walker administration in writing five years ago that it was failing to enforce clean water standards in 75 issue areas.

The EPA referred to "numerous apparent omissions and deviations between Wisconsin’s current statute and [Clean Water Act] requirements.”

After years of foot-dragging - - I called it "Delay and Conquer" more than four years ago - -  especially when it came to keeping toxins out of residential wells near the big feedlots which Walker, the DNR, the GOP-run Legislature and the Attorney General have all intentionally de-regulated - -  the EPA hammer os coming down "imminenty' because of the great work by public interest attorneys at Midwest Environmental Advocates.

That's the non-profit law firm hired by aggrieved Wisconsin citizens paying have the public safety job done correctly which Walker, the GOP-led legislature and Attorney General Brad Schimel have together disregarded for partisan, political reasons.

*  Decision-making on the high-end golf course which Kohler Company wants to build in a Lake Michigan shoreline nature preserve filled with rare wetlands and dunes, Native American artifacts, wildlife and thousands of trees. 

As with some of the groundwater-depleting and runoff polluting feedlot expansions and other high-profile land transactions, a major Walker donor is involved and fair environmental procedures waived, as the DNR has proceeded with golf course project reviews in a taxpayer-paid smoothing process without a formal permit application in hand which the company would have to formally defend.

At some point, the DNR is going to have to decide whether to ask for that permit application: with DNR officials also on record saying they may allow some project permits to be written by the applicant and not by the agency - - the ultimate regulatory capitulation to donors and polluters - -  I could imagine Kohler eventually being allowed to write the final permit itself, since the DNR has already goosed the preliminaries along in the company's favor.

*  Decision-making on the precedent-setting 26,000-hog Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation, (CAFO), complete with nine football field-size manure storage containers and spreading operations set on several nearby farm fields, which an Iowa pork producer wants to locate close to scenic Lake Superior Chequamegon Bay.

In this case, the company has filed a permit application, but time has gone by and the DNR has yet to complete and release an Environmental Impact Statement. Word is that the company has not sent the agency enough information to date; in any case, delay keeps the issue away from the November elections in a state where water rights and Walker administration favoritism to big business is finally breaking through.

*  Ditto for the stalled, so-called realignment of the DNR - - the latest iteration in redefining and downsizing the staff-and-budget-starved agency away from its historical mission.

The realignment - - and what a great, bureaucratic word: I wonder why AG Schimel didn't use it when it would have been so apropos - - was supposed to be announced in early August as employees were waiting to find out if their jobs or sections were to be eliminated, watered-down, or transferred to Walker administration Gulag outposts miles away to the edge of Madison in the similarly corporatized Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or to a partisan redoubt in the Department of Administration, or to a far-flung DNR office up North (sorry if you need to sell your house, take the kids out of their school, but you're free to commute round-trip 400 miles...).

We'll know more when Walker announces his 2017-'19 budget - - with an eye on 
Walker, 2018 - - and if the past is any indication, the DNR will continue to lose money, staff, prestige and relevance, while the public loses Stewardship land access, and the use of state parks now stripped of state support (corporate naming rights are on the table: Goody!)

Though the real thing to keep an eye on is Walker, 2020, and maybe we're seeing the succession plan unfolding.


Betsey said...


nonquixote said...

One doesn't have to look beyond the Peninsula State Park Superintendent having been awarded the state "Property Manager of the Year" and no names of these vital and committed individuals appear any longer on on the DNR WI state park lists.

Realignment will predictably involve leasing parks to private and for profit management companies as part of the plan, obviously being held off until after the Nov election and will be another bwamb dropped into the state legislature if voters don't at least flip the state senate majority.

Fair warning given. Thanks James.