Saturday, October 28, 2017

Walker figures out new way to serve business, weaken WI DNR

[Updated from 10/28/17] Right-wing WI GOP Gov. and corporate bellhop Scott Walker now wants to give foxes the run of the farm.

He's moving to shift from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources the oversight of controversial, large-scale, water-demanding and manure-producing animal feeding and breeding operations to the more industry-focused Wisconsin Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection, (DATCP), where all sorts of ag and dairy promotion and marketing is centered. 

I'll add below the email which DNR management sent to employees late Thursday about the plan.

Note that Wisconsin legislators didn't want Walker to use the state budget as the means to split the Wisconsin DNR into half - - as various DNR haters and business allies have dreamed of doing for years- - essentially creating a more narrowly-focused Department of Hunting, Fishing and Recreation and another agency to 'regulate' de-regulate for corporations the people's air, water, and land.

So Walker is simply moving to do much the same thing by again using his executive powers to weaken, downgrade and twist the DNR into the 'chamber of commerce mentality' operation he set in motion for his corporate backers' nearly eight years ago.

That's when he turned the wrecking ball over to the enthusiastically anti-DNR and ideologically-committed 
developer and former McDonald's store manager Cathy Stepp on day one of his first term.

Sidebar: Stepp has taken her environmental hostility to Donald Trump's US Environmental Protection [Sic] Agency regional office in Kansas City - - allowing Walker to replace her with an actual, just-retired chamber of commerce official who cements that chamber of commerce/state definition loop.

But 'chamber of commerce mentality' Walker was not content with having already trashed the DNR's nationally-recognized, talent-attracting water division and further whittling the DNR down to a glorified business permitting, self-regulating agency that will perform like a patronage-directed department of commerce and help him move $3+billion in public funds to the wetlands-filling, water-sucking Foxconn plant where bulldozing in Racine County might start next year

Walker wants to further drain the DNR's mission, just as he did by wiping out its science bureau and laying off agency scientists, and removing climate science and materials from the agency mission, and replacing civil service oversight of the DNR's forestry division with an industry insider and further separating that workforce from the rest of the DNR staff by moving the forest division up north, and, through budget cuts and favoritism, laying the groundwork for corporate sponsorships at state parks (are direct state parkland transfers to private owners for projects like the proposed, high-end, wetland-filling-and-polluting, artifact-threatening, dune-damaging golf course adjacent to Kohler Andrae State Park south of Sheboygan far off?

Now instead of giving the DNR the staff it needs to carry out its traditional, constitutionally-protected water resource mission in the public interest, Walker is out to move the DNR's already-weakened, overtly business-friendly 'oversight' of industrial-scale cattle and dairy operations

from the water specialists and institutional memory and past practices at the DNR to the more friendly business-related confines of the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, (DATCP).

From DATCP's "about us" web page:

DATCP Mission
We partner with all the citizens of Wisconsin to grow the economy by promoting quality food, healthy plants and animals, sound use of land and water resources, and a fair marketplace.
DATCP Vision
We will deliver efficient and effective programs and services to Wisconsin agriculture, consumers, and businesses, to provide market confidence and to enhance competitiveness and profitability.​
Talk about setting up a classic conflict of interest and clash of private and public interests in a state where the deck is continually stacked in favor of business and campaign donors by Walker, the GOP Attorney General and the Walker-led. GOP-dominated state legislature. 

And where the rush is on for sweetheart mining and other water-privateering legislation, perhaps to circumvent a possible statewide redistricting ordered by the US Supreme Court to overturn the WI GOP's grotesquely-gerrymandering.

The Walker plan to move what is essentially the protection of the public's water to DATCPhad been reported almost a year ago when he gave big ag a heads up; today one of its representatives has given a thumb's up

John Holevoet, director of government affairs at the Dairy Business Association, said... the authority transfer would be a “good move” from both an environmental and farmer perspective, and would mean the state’s taking a “fresh look” at the program that will “probably make it more functional and better.”
This is the state agency that is assigned ag and dairy promotion, by law:
The specific duties of the secretary of agriculture, trade, and consumer protection are outlined in Chapter 93.07 of the Wisconsin state code. Some of the main duties of the office include:[5]
  • Promotion of agriculture: "To promote the interests of agriculture, dairying, horticulture, manufacturing, commercial fishing and the domestic arts and to advertise Wisconsin and its dairy, food, and agricultural products by conducting campaigns of education throughout the United States and in foreign markets. Such campaigns shall include the distribution of educational and advertising material concerning Wisconsin and its plant, animal, food, and dairy products. The department shall coordinate efforts by the state to advertise and promote agricultural products of this state, with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation where appropriate. The department shall submit its request and plan for market development program expenditures for each biennium with its biennial budget request. The plan shall include the identification and priority of expenditures for each market development program activity.
  • State aid to Livestock Breeders Association: To receive and examine, prior to its transmission to the department of administration, the biennial request for state aid of the Wisconsin Livestock Breeders Association; to transmit and make recommendations upon this request to the department of administration and the governor; and to advise as to the manner of expending and accounting for state moneys appropriated to that organization."

And promotes ag and dairy businesses and helps those industries sell their products through a non-profit marketing board, according to a DATCP web page:

Established in 1983, this market order board has 25 members who represent Wisconsin's thousands of ​​dairy farmers. Its mission is “To help grow demand for Wisconsin milk by providing programs that enhance the competitiveness of the Wisconsin Dairy Industry.” 
DATCP also:

*  Manages the Alice in Dairyland program.

*  Works closely with the annual World Dairy Expo.

*  Has a non-voting seat on the World Dairy Expo board executive committee.

All of which speaks to a government agency that is a lot closer to private sector goals than is the DNR, even with the changes Walker has made there.

Relevant employees at DNR got this email from environmental and business operations manager Pat Stevens, a former builders, transportation and WMC official first put in charge of DNR programs like clean air and other business-related tasks, and to whom oversight of the former water division had been transferred:

To staff in: External Services, Drinking Water and Groundwater, Water Quality, Remediation and Redevelopment, Enforcement, and Fisheries Management
From: Pat Stevens, Mark Aquino, Sanjay Olson, and Todd Schaller
As part of his multi-faceted rural agenda, Governor Walker announced Thursday that he has asked the DNR to start working with DATCP and the EPA on transitioning CAFO regulatory and enforcement authority from DNR to DATCP.
Because your program may work with CAFOs, we wanted to share this information with you. Please understand that it is too early in the process to even begin to outline for you how this will work or to answer the various questions you might have on hearing the news. Many details need to be worked out and any move will require legislative and EPA approval.
In general, we see this as an extension of our own alignment process where we have moved related programs once covered by two or more DNR divisions into one division to streamline the process. Currently, the two agencies have different rules impacting CAFOs, so it makes sense to evaluate how to consolidate them under one agency instead of having CAFOs answer to two different agencies.
We at the DNR have experience in these complex moves and changes. Alignment, HR Shared Services, and PECFA are all examples of how we can work through these projects that provide benefits and more efficient services for our customers.
No timetable has been set but we will begin immediately to explore how such a move can take place. We will keep you posted as the process moves forward.
Please note that Jim Dick will be the spokesperson on this issue.
Thank you.
Pat Stevens
Administrator – Environmental Management Division
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Finally, it's important to understand that moving DNR work related to the state's more than 240 CAFOs - - most house dairy cattle, but don't forget the pigs! - - and their clean-air and water-related issues also physically separates the process from public oversight and participation.

DATCP's building is located on the far east side of Madison, about eight miles from the State Capitol, the DNR, legislative offices and various public policy and advocacy groups long-located in downtown Madison.

Note also that people used to connecting with the DNR in Madison by bus can get to the DATCP building - - but that trip adds another hour or so from the Capitol Square with a transfer at East Towne mall.

Why should so many people be additionally-inconvenienced?

I think we know the answer. 

*  Long bus commutes, like cumbersome Voter ID laws which create long lines, lead people to stay home.

*  Or like the isolation of the regional planning commission in western Waukesha County, far from the Milwaukee population center, and not even on a bus line, period.

Where government puts its facilities and how they are staffed says a lot about how that government wants to interact with the people who pay the bills.

Back to Voter ID. Walker said the state would issue qualifying ID's at state motor vehicle offices, then closed some and didn't expand the often minimal hours to help get those ID's in people's hands.

When it comes to public input, and protecting the state's waters which the Wisconsin Constitution says belong to all of the people, which side of the public-private line do you think DATCP supervision of big ag and big dairy is going to land?

So many things about this Walker-ordered reorganization being done administratively without hearings or legislative action absolutely scream 'Big Business Wins Again, Public Loses.'

Remember when former WI DNR Secretary Stepp famously complained that government should not:

Change the Rules to Fit the Players.


Anonymous said...

They seem to be dismantling the DNR one program at a time.

JB said...

Mr Walker shares Scott Pruitt's sentiment: natural resources are here on earth for us to use. So much for the next generation, much less seven generations.

Man MKE said...

Great overview and meticulous background research putting this all in perspective. It's a book, Jim. DNR now stands for Do Not Resuscitate.

James Rowen said...

Thanks. It's a sad story.

Anonymous said...

The state even got a WQ violation during construction of the new DNR office in Oconto Falls this past spring. I wonder why that didn't show up in the news ?