[Updated 8/30/17, 9/1/17] Given the departure by WI DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp for a regional EPA position in the Trump administration, and some early speculation about who might step into what had been Wisconsin's key environmental stewardship job which Scott Walker wanted managed with "a chamber of commerce mentality," I asked people with first-hand knowledge of the DNR if they had "a response, assessment or remarks" about the situation.
I'd sought a similar review from people familiar with the DNR under Stepp in June, 2016 after some high-profile resignations. That led to this post - -
Inside the WI DNR: poor morale, fear, despair over lost mission
- - which, depending on the counter being used is either the first or second-most downloaded item among more than 17,000 on this blog since it began in February, 2007.
Some comments have been emailed to me since Stepp's announced departure; I will post what I have and update it if more arrive:
* I knew Stepp was the least qualified appointee in the forty-plus years I have known the DNR, but I didn't think it possible she could do the kind of long-term damage she has done.
* [Updated[ During her entire tenure as head of the Wisconsin DNR, Stepp emphasized only one thing, being friendly to business. That simply is not the main mission of the Department of Natural Resources. Yes, when issuing permits, they need to be done in an efficient and fair manner. But more importantly, those permits should be issued with an eye toward protecting some of the most significant natural resources in North America. That should be the main driving mission at the Wisconsin DNR. World-class natural resources demand world class protections. We should not apologize for that fact, but rather embrace it.
The Stepp Administration will be remembered as one focused on returning Wisconsin to the days of pitting the environment against the economy, denigrating scientists who only wished to protect our natural resources and driving the agency to the brink of the irrelevancy. She should do well as part of an administration who is intent on similar results at a national scale."
* Under Secretary Stepp, Wisconsin citizens lost significant public health and environmental protections. Our rights to drink clean water and breathe clean air were eroded, basic science was ignored, publicly-funded research was hidden from public view, and our public lands were diminished by ill-conceived management practices.
Most everything she did at the DNR put private gain ahead of citizens’ rightful expectation that government should protect the lands and waters upon which public health and well-being depend.
* We're terrified of getting someone worse like [GOP State Sen. Tom] Tiffany and hoping to get someone OK, but can't really come up with a Walker person who is OK...
[Updated] She was apparently ineffective when it came to working with the legislature and governor. She would tell us in staff town hall meetings that she was trying to preserve staff or budget but that it was up to the legislature. She would tell us she was working hard to protect programs but never prevailed.
We all knew that she was actually proposing the budget or program cuts. What surprised me is that they didn't even give her one or two small budget victories so she could at least look like an effective cabinet level secretary to DNR staff. She was complicit in her own failure. You really have to love your political party to fall on the sword for it like that.
* Cathy Stepp's tenure as secretary of the DNR was marked by a steep decline in the protection of Wisconsin's natural resources. She leaves Wisconsin's air, land, and water more polluted and less protected than it has been in decades.
Under her watch, polluted waters increased, manure pollution violations were only enforced 5 percent of the time, scientists were kicked out of the DNR, climate change was scrubbed from its website, she dismantled a popular magazine that regularly printed actual science, she – by her own account – leaves the DNR deeply demoralized.
We're hopeful the new appointee will have actual natural resources management experience as well as leadership skills. It is difficult imagine Stepp's move to an albeit low-level position in the Trump Administration's EPA will be a good thing for the states and tribes she will be serving.
* If Cathy Stepp knew anything about our storied conservation history and cared anything about the rights of future generations, she’d have defended the department’s role in balancing the wants of today with the needs of tomorrow. I don’t know if there is anything more shady than a trustee openly disregarding their duties to those whose interests they are charged to represent. So while the legislature and governor are the ones wielding power to undermine our public science agency, Cathy Stepp chose to fill a chair holding a rubber stamp, abandoning the mission, the staff and the people of Wisconsin.
I’ve been in Wisconsin 41 years. I still remember how empowering it was to know my voice as a lone citizen, or lowly non-profit worker, was welcome and valued in decision-making concerning the resources we all own together. Back in the public intervenor and independent secretary days, citizens still had to show up with sound science and well defined expectations, but we could show up knowing we’d be heard.
The long slide, edging out citizen voices began long before Cathy Stepp, but the brazen flaunting of chumming up with cronies has been nothing less than shocking to me in the past several years...if someone would’ve described the current situation in state government a few years ago, we’d have dismissed them as a kook.
Government is the great equalizer of interests and there is no more important function than balancing interests around our natural resources. Gaylord Nelson reminded us our economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of our natural heritage. Wisconsin has a special place in the world’s history of recovering places that have been devastated by inventing new land recovery techniques grounded in sound science. The great northern forest cutover was a tremendous opportunity to see the impacts of limitless extraction and out of necessity develop the science of restoration ecology.
I’ve had the privilege of working with...people who intertwined their professional lives with the stewarding of our Wisconsin natural heritage. The same folks being talked about by Cathy Stepp, the legislature and governor as loafing, law-breaking leeches who made too much money at everyone else’s expense.
It’s important to remember our legislature and governor are the engines behind starving the DNR of resources and professional autonomy through budget cuts and statutory changes that concentrate the power of administrative rule-making in their hands.-------------------------
* Stepp's departure and hiring at EPA's region 7 is indicative of the direction that the Trump Administration under Pruitt is headed. Unfortunately for the citizenry in Region 7, the widespread environmental damage that was done under Stepp's tenure is heading to Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska & Missouri.
Who will succeed Stepp? Everyone wonders.
What a blow to Wisconsinites to see Stepp climb the ladder of success, despite her widespread failures in protecting the citizens and natural resources of Wisconsin. The fact that Stepp is tooting her own horn about the White House giving her an offer she couldn't refuse - - should leave no doubt in anyone's mind the serious jeopardy that our natural resources face on a landscape where extraction, exploitation, & enterprise rule.