Monday, April 3, 2017

3M, in WI - - too big and wealthy to fine?

I'd noted last week that right-wing WI GOP Attorney General and corporate tool Brad Schimel had let the 3M corporation off without any financial penalty for air pollution violations during 2014 and 2015 at its Wausau manufacturing facilities.
Smoke stacks from a factory.
According to Schimel: 
“For me, this is an easy call,” Schimel said. “We didn’t think that a forfeiture going into the school fund was as significant as getting them to permanently improve the environment and save jobs in Wausau.”
A few words about this latest episode of pollution tolerance in Scott Walker's 'chamber of commerce mentality' state, plus a few paragraphs of 'follow the money,' below.

* Improving the environment and saving jobs are not mutually exclusive. It's not an either-or proposition, and Schimel knows it.

* That "school fund" Schimel sniffed at goes all the way back to the state's founding, is part of the State Constitution Schimel is sworn to uphold, and adds revenue for books and materials for school districts statewide where funds are often short and teachers commonly spend their own money for classroom items.

Read more about the fund, here.

Records indicate that 3M could have easily paid whatever forfeiture Schimel had sought, and should not have been treated by Schimel as it it were a little startup business unfamiliar with Wisconsin rules, procedures and expectations.

According to the company, 3M, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in St. Paul,. MN, has owned its Wausau properties since 1929 and, importantly: 

It was the first 3M manufacturing facility purchased outside of Minnesota and is the oldest, currently operating, manufacturing facility for 3M in the world.
There's plenty of data in company financial documents indicating it could have absorbed any judgement sought by Schimel, including 2016 sales of $30,109,000,000, new income of $5,050,000,000, dividends paid to shareholders of $2,678,000,000 (including an increase for the 59th consecutive year, and fiscal year compensation for the board chairman and CEO of $14,500,000.

Final point: 3M and Wisconsin elected officials, principally Republicans, are no strangers when it comes to campaign donations, according to records posted by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

*  Gov. Walker, with $29,500 collected since 2010, is the largest recipient of all 131 political contributions totaling $114,613 made by the 3M Political Action Committee.

*  Walker also received the largest single donation - - $10,000 - - when the average donation by the PAC over the years is $870.

*  Schimel has received a single $1,000 donations last year.

This is not the first time that a senior Wisconsin official has declined tough treatment for a polluter who has donated to the official's campaign committee.

In 2012, a top Wisconsin DNR official had recommended against referring a polluter to the Department of Justice who had donated $750 to the official's campaign committee when he had served in the Legislature before joining the DNR: 

Scott Gunderson, executive assistant to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, “made an extra effort” to deal with the complaint internally last year even though the agency’s enforcement staff urged that the case be referred to DOJ, which could have imposed fines of tens of thousands of dollars. 
Instead, Gunderson decided to ask district attorneys in Waukesha and Jefferson counties to issue five citations against Herr Environmental and fine the company $4,338 — the minimum forfeiture for the permit violations, which the lead DNR investigator called “among the worst” he’d seen. 
Gunderson, a former Republican state representative, received $750 in campaign contributions from the owner of the company, Richard Herr, and Herr’s wife in 2006 and 2008. 
Last week, Gunderson said he forgot when he agreed to oversee the case that he accepted political contributions from the Herrs, major supporters of Republican campaigns as well as some Democratic candidates. Gunderson said even if he had been aware of the contributions, it would not have influenced his decision.
Interesting, though, that the Herrs did end up paying forfeitures, while 3M did not, and overall, pollution enforcement actions in Wisconsin are down since Walker, and then Schimel, took office.

Noted and documented on this blog, by media and Wisconsin watchdog groups often, for years.

And years.

And years

Fines paid by Wisconsin polluters fell to a 30-year low in 2015 in the latest sign that enforcement of laws protecting the environment has been on the wane in recent years, according to data released Wednesday by a statewide conservation group.  
The downward trend means businesses that pollute have gained a competitive edge over those that spend money to avoid discharging harmful chemicals into air and water, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation said.

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