Thursday, August 4, 2016

Legislature ceded rule powers to Walker, so CAFO pollution further enabled

There has been another stunning environmental setback engineered in Wisconsin by Gov. Scott Walker  - - made worse because it was approved Wednesday by the current Wisconsin State Natural Resources Board which fell in line and forfeited its public oversight role - - when Walker threw away months of rule-making work designed by multiple stakeholders to help guarantee safe drinking water to people living near industrial-scale animal feeding and massive manure generating operations known as CAFOs.

The health problems which CAFOs produce are extensive, long-standing and scientifically-documented.

Which was of no interest to Walker, as he sandbagged the process and rigged a pro-industry outcome by sending the proposed rules to alert big dairy and other special interests.

They, on cue, registered their objections - - who'd have thunk it? - - to the Walker-controlled and special-interest obeisant Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

It, on cue, (can we say watered-down?) substantially rewrote and eased for special interests' the scope of the proposed rule-making, and then, on cue, the NRB approved the pro-industry framework yesterday:

The state Department of Natural Resources policy board on Wednesday approved limited plans for reducing manure contamination of public waters despite complaints about excessive dairy industry influence and worries the department won’t have staff to enforce any new rules...
Instead of stronger regulation of manure at CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) statewide, any new rules will apply only in yet-to-be-defined sensitive areas where groundwater is especially vulnerable.
Also removed were plans for new standards for aerial spraying of manure.
Nice, tight, lockstep oversight of the process - - but tilted to those already with power and influence.

All but ensuring that whatever final rules emerge from this polluted process will be more friendly to the CAFO owners and manure sprayers than citizens and taxpayers struggling with polluted groundwater, airborne pollution when manure is sprayed on farm fields and a polluted political process which has devalued the public interest.

And continues Walker's disregard for clean water in Wisconsin - - which has drawn the attention of the US EPA, and has led to recent calls for the EPA to take immediate, remedial action:

Today, several environmental protection advocacy organizations issued a letter to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for federal support in providing clean drinking water for households in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin.
Since filing a petition with the EPA on October 22, 2014, asking for EPA intervention under federal Safe Drinking Water Act powers, no government entity has stepped up to provide clean drinking water to residents. While the regulatory agencies have been meeting to evaluate the problem and develop solutions, groundwater pollution from landspreading of livestock waste continues to threaten the health of Kewaunee County residents living with contaminated drinking water wells... 
“After a year of talks, Kewaunee County residents are still waiting for local solutions to this continued drinking water crisis,” said Lynn Utesch, member of Kewaunee CARES and EPA petitioner. 
“We need the EPA to know that local residents are still facing unreasonable delays in drinking water contamination test results. The DNR or EPA did not provide safe drinking water in the fall of 2014...residents are again out of options.”
As an aside, I'd say it all bodes ill for efforts to stop what could be the granddaddy of CAFO polluters in Wisconsin - - the proposed 26,000-every-six-months hog CAFO close to sensitive waters in NW Wisconsin near Lake Superior - - a proposed project under review by the DNR which just used its authority to bar Ashland County from trying to control the proposed CAFO with a local ordinance.

Heck - - they're even giving Wisconsin's big polluters environmental awards these days.

It's important to remember that Walker could engineer such an ugly process because the Legislature ceded to him unprecedented executive at the beginning of his first term over the development of administrative rules which carry the force of law in many state day-to-day operations.

This power transfer enables Walker to apply the same "chamber of commerce mentality" across the government which he directed developer and known Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources antagonist Cathy Stepp to employ when Walker appointed her as DNR Secretary.

I noted several times on this blog the public policy dangers inherent in the Legislature's willing to hand over to Walker even more power to serve big business by giving away its rule-making role which traditionally transparent, democratic procedures like committee hearings where the public could speak and media could help raise awareness.

The Legislature's gift to Walker was similar to the transfer to Walker of  the power to sell any state asset with only token Legislative and public review.

These changes give Walker greater centralized authority and give the lie to the notion that Republicans oppose big government and support local control.

Here is an early 2011 posting about how Walker has been empowered to make or break the administrative rule-making process, along with several paragraphs regrettably relevant today.

*  Walker wants to remove state rule-making powers - - a very important state function because  Wisconsin rules have the power of law  - - from the legislature to his office.

That's a power grab that upsets the checks-and-balances among the branches of government, blocks transparency and opens the door even more widely to special-interest influence.

And special interest already have more than a foot inside that door.

* Manufacturers and insurance companies have won from Walker and his legislative followers without authentic cause award ceilings in injury and liability cases - - a huge victory for the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

* Real estate interests, for example, have won Walker's pledge to impose severe restrictions on how a land owner may use his or her property by barring the installation of most wind turbines - - some even with approvals in hand - - thus killing a growing industry with well-paying jobs that will also create cleaner energy, according to a business coalition.

* And Walker created a firestorm when he asked for a special law to stop the state's full wetlands' permit review procedures so a popular fishing equipment store could be built on a small wetlands near Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The company has wisely backed off, saying, with some logic, that a store that sells to anglers doesn't fill wetlands, but Walker's intention to use the legislative process to make an end-run around an existing policy and procedure - - for a major campaign donor, to boot - - speaks loudly about how far from Wisconsin tradition and environmental protections he is willing to drag the state on behalf of a special interest.

* He appointed the home-builder Cathy Stepp as Department of Natural Resources Secretary after her active, high-voltage assault on the agency's task to balance private and public interests and the integrity of its employees...

But now some legislators believe that Walker and Stepp will so effectively dilute the DNR's mission that even the assurance of safe drinking water statewide will no longer be defined as a Wisconsin priority.


old baldy said...


You really need to get this information out to a wider audience. There are a lot of folks affected by the now neutered DNRs decisions that need to see some of the background on how we ended up where we are today. Kewaunee County, Central Sands, and landowners all across the north have been hurt by the DNR policies. You could be especially effective as a voice of reason against Tiffany, as he will have a tough time in the general. Go get 'em !

Anonymous said...

It was absolutely sickening to watch and hear the boards flippant dismissal of the citizens there and all the people who worked hundreds of hours on the Kewaunee County study group. One board member said they were antibusiness. Stepp smirked her way through the meeting and basically said all the concerned citizens do is have bumper stickets, shes the one who really knows better.

The board and Stepp clearly showed their colors, pro business only- anti citizen anti dnr anti any environmental protection.

They are an absolute disgrace, it wont change until Walker is gone. Poor Wisconsin, we will be another Iowa or Illinois before they are done.

You can watch the board meeting on line if you can stomach those b......s.

James Rowen said...

To Old Baldy - - I am doing my best to get this information out to a wider audience. I reposted this item on several Facebook groups pages and It's on Twitter, too. Feel free to send it to media you may know.

Anonymous said...

Where can you watch the Board meeting online? I couldn't find it on Wiseye.