Friday, July 28, 2017

Diminished, degraded WI DNR faces daunting Foxconn review

A suggestion:

The Wisconsin Legislature should add permit reviewers, inspectors and related technical staff in the 2017-'19 budget it has yet to approve for the Department of Natural Resources it has helped to downgrade because the agency will have to review and inspect an historically-large potential Foxconn project site or sites "three times the size of the Pentagon."

The reality: Nah.

Though a downsized and demoralized Wisconsin DNR is an intended consequence of the Scott Walker/Cathy Stepp mission-killing withdrawal of public interest governance at the Wisconsin DNR,  I appreciated the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's cataloguing of permits and environmental tasks facing the diminished agency when it reviews the proposed Foxconn project site described alternately as the size of the entire Village of Shorewood, a Milwaukee suburb.

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

As the Journal Sentinel reports, there will be  wetlands, clean water, land use, wastewater, clean air and other project permit basics which the DNR should review, though Walker and Stepp's known 'chamber of commerce' approach to anti-pollution inspections and enforcement suggest that the DNR will struggle to do its job for the people, or could turn it over to Foxconn itself in line with Walker-era-DNR proposals to enable more laissez-faire, company-led environmental compliance in Wisconsin.

By way of comparison, note that an audit not long ago found that the DNR had a habit of ignoring its own anti-pollution inspection rules.

To which Stepp responded by blaming budget cuts and work rules, pining for the easier time she had coordinating workers with tasks and rules having managed managed a fast-food chain restaurant: 

The [Natural Resources] Board was questioning Stepp and her top administrators about a Legislative Audit Bureau report released this month showing that over the past 10 years the DNR failed 94 percent of the time to take enforcement action against private industries and municipal sewage plants that exceeded water pollution limits, violating its own internal policies.
DNR employees didn’t have time to review reports from polluters, weren’t reissuing discharge permits with updated standards on a timely basis, and frequently failed to meet the department’s own standards for inspections and enforcement action against polluters.
Stepp recalled her days as McDonald’s restaurant manager as she talked about how state employment rules that have hobbled the DNR. Stepp said she could quickly mobilize her fast-food employees when a busload of customers arrived unexpectedly, but the DNR can’t react that nimbly to retirements.
And project permit applications filed with the DNR can drag on and on and on.

For example, the agency has yet to cajole all the relevant permit information in needs after nearly two-and-a-half-years from the Iowa firm which wants to construct a 26,000 pig feedlot and manure producing operation within smelling distance of Lake Superior and the City of Ashland's drinking water supply.

Another example: the DNR got initial paperwork from Kohler interests in April, 2015 about its controversial plan to convert a nature preserve along Lake Michigan into a golf course, but only submitted its first of several formal permit applications nearly two years later, the DNR reports:

The Kohler Company submitted a wetland permit application to the department on March 8, 2017. Wetland permitting documents
So how will the DNR with fewer staffers cope with the multiple demands posed by Foxconn, and what happens to so many ongoing project reviews and routine obligations if staffers are pulled for Foxconn project needs?

1 comment:

Joe R said...

The answer is obvious -- they'll outsource the environmental review. I bet the bean counters at Foth (offices in Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee) are working on the bids right now. That is, in addition to their responsibilities to the frac sand and mining industries.