Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trump's EPA suppression echoes Walker's takedown of WI DNR

[Updated from 1/25/17]

I'm adding to this recent post because:

*  The ideologically-driven, corporately-attuned Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, soon to lose at Gov. Walker's directive its subscriber-funded, 99-year-old monthly magazine, was accused this week of having made political changes to articles at the expense of science and climate change information, adding to years of political pressures with the DNR that have stripped the agency of mission, character and depth.

The ideologically-driven, corporately-attuned oil and gas captive Scott Pruitt won US Senate approval this week to run the EPA.


The denial of climate change, the contempt for facts and a preference for the "alternative varieties," the disdain for science and public service, and the all-purpose elevation of right-wing ideology has spread from the Trump campaign to his administration and now to the US Environmental Protection Agency, where we learned today that the so-called "political appointees" will review scientific information and papers before they are released:
The Trump administration is scrutinizing studies and data published by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, while new work is under a "temporary hold" before it can be released.
The communications director for President Donald Trump's transition team at EPA, Doug Ericksen, said Wednesday the review extends to all existing content on the federal agency's website, including details of scientific evidence showing that the Earth's climate is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame...
...the Trump administration was mandating that any studies or data from EPA scientists undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.  
This is a disaster for public health, and the truth, and, regrettably, there is precedent for it in the formerly progressive State of Wisconsin now entering its seventh straight year of one-party, far-rightwing, corporately-obeisant Republican Party rule:

The abusive manipulation of facts and data by political appointees is precisely what led to the scrubbing of crucial material from Wisconsin right-wing Gov. Scott Walker's "chamber of commerce mentality" Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources climate change web pages, documented here.

And this costly politically-managed management of facts and censorship of science at the very public agencies charged with implementing the scientific protection of the people's air and water and land was pointed out by DNR experts and insiders and included in a long investigative analysis I posted and updated last year, excerpted below:

The DNR, once a nationally-regarded science-based resource protection agency, has been disregarded, defunded and degraded by management "deliberately and proudly uninformed," according to one first-hand observer among several whom I surveyed over the course of ten days.
Wisconsin's far-right Governor Scott Walker set the DNR's downfall in motion when he appointed at the beginning of his tenure Racine developer and unabashed DNR-trasher Cathy Stepp...  
Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp proudly shows off her first deer, taken opening weekend last year. In the upcoming TV Special "Deer Hunt Wisconsin 2012, Stepp urges male hunters to take more girls and women hunting. "The secret's out," she says. "Hunting is a lot of fun, so don't keep it to yourselves."  photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR
Walker has reduced DNR budgets, pared its long-standing, bi-partisan land acquisition program, slashed science and other staffs, enabled reduced pollution inspections and enforcement actions  - - read this 2012 enforcement summation and a 2016 followup - - and wants to turn over agency permit drafting to 'regulated' applicants already enjoying eased permit reviews... 
I decided to survey people with direct knowledge of the DNR. I asked them to comment on agency issues, including morale, impact of budget cuts, reorganizations, and senior staff leadership/competence.
Here is some of the feedback:
*  A lobbyist noted DNR policy and procedure changes that have tilted agency activity and decisions towards regulated businesses:
Decisions on permits, policies, responses to FOI's [freedom of information requests] are all made by Division Administrators (political appointees)... 
* Another former staffer said:
...morale among the long-time staff is not good. Many are old enough to retire... but feel they can't. I've also heard that senior management (division admins and up) "listen" to advice of technical staff but often don't follow it.
*  A second lobbyist said:
...for retired DNR workers...there's deep dismay about the selling off of the agency, the trashing of its mission, the disrespect for agency workers (and all public employees, for that matter, by the Walker regime). 
   *  A third former staffer said: 
The most alarming issue to me is the great waste of decades of sound science, compiled overtime in on-going studies and data collection. WI had more information about our natural landscape than most states. Abolishing science services put an end to decades long studies vital to maintaining and recovering rare and endangered plants and animals as well as understanding natural communities as information on resilience for climate change. 
* A current employe on personal time echoed many of the lobbyists and former staffers' observations:
Under Walker and Stepp, science is not a priority. Scientific knowledge is ever-changing but in Wisconsin our staff are being left behind. We no longer have a statistician to help interpret data, a library to provide journals or books, or researchers that monitor fish counts, wildlife health, air quality, water quality and etc….employee scientific knowledge and data specific to WI is stagnant...we cannot do the best job possible for our state. 
The DNR is currently run by people who understand public relations spin but not the complexity of the natural resources they are responsible for...Communications staff, generally not trained specifically in resource communication, answer questions with talking points..usually developed by upper management - political appointees - and legal staff. The information provided is biased and superficial.
Act 10 and the pay cuts related to that have been hard on a lot of staff...we can no longer hire and/or keep the best and brightest and that is sad. Especially looking back at some of the really ground-breaking research and resulting policy work done here 20-30 years ago. We now do the minimum to protect resources...
Updated, 6/21/16:
With his permission, I am adding comments from Gordon Stevenson, an engineer and former senior DNR manager, who now serves Midwest Environmental Advocates as board chairman: 
 At an MEA water program in Milwaukee, Stevenson said, in part:
For the majority of my career, water policy decisions were based on the strong bond between law and science, the people in charge of making those decisions had conservation and environmental protection credentials, and my colleagues and I shared the belief that Wisconsin's true and sustaining wealth is its clean water.
Much of that is now changed at DNR. Wisconsin DNR's water quality permit program has been found seriously deficient by the US Environmental Protection Agency. DNR is failing to protect downstream water from upstream pollution sources, they are allowing already impaired water bodies to get worse and they are suppressing the public's ability to challenge water quality permit decisions.
Wisconsin DNR's authority to protect Wisconsin's water resources is delegated from EPA. Under the delegation agreement, DNR is obligated to administer the federal Clean Water Act. DNR is not doing so. On behalf of 16 Wisconsin citizens, Midwest Environmental Advocates has filed a Citizens Petition for Corrective Action with the US Environmental Protection agency to correct these deficiencies. The petition seeks to restore the credible water quality protection program that we once had in this state.
We're arriving at an important crossroads in Wisconsin. We have our own version of Flint, Michigan in Kewaunee County where citizens cannot drink the water and we have our own version of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. A dead zone now also exists in Green Bay that runs from the City of Green Bay all the way up to Marinette.
While I am alarmed, I am also encouraged . We are pleased to report that more than 70 people like me, DNR retirees, along with other credible scientist and partners have signed on to support the Petition for Corrective Action along with our original 16 Wisconsin citizen clients. And the number of people supporting the petition is growing daily.
But in a larger sense. I am even more encouraged that so many Wisconsin citizens believe like I do: that water policy decisions should be based on the strong bond between law and science, that the people in charge of making water quality decisions should have the credentials to do so, and that Wisconsin's true and sustaining wealth is its clean water."
In an email to me, Stevenson also said:
In addition, DNR management has made it clear to staff that environmental advocacy is no longer the core mission of DNR and staff are disallowed from doing so. What was once a guardian of Wisconsin’s natural heritage is now reduced to a rubber-stamping vendor of licenses and permits without oversight.
One more thing:

Remember that the Wisconsin DNR wiped references to climate change from its climate change web page.

So are you surprised at this breaking news?

Trump Administration Tells EPA to Cut Climate Change Page From Website
The page was restored, For now. 

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