Tuesday, October 24, 2017

WI's water grabbers are at it. Again.

[Updated from 10/23/17] Wisconsin's water privateers are at it again with the Scott Walker playbook in hand.

First, some context:

*  A few weeks ago, there were the state groundwater hogs - - including donors to Gov. Walker's campaign committee - - who were reined in by a Circuit Court judge after having been enabled by GOP allies on behalf of special interests in the Legislature, Attorney General's office and atop the DNR.
*  That's the same collection of power brokers inside the government which handed Foxconn unique rights and exemptions to build the state's biggest private-sector complex without a routine environmental review and fill some wetlands without permits issued after analysis by the DNR.

*  More recently, Republican legislators proposed a sweeping removal of regulatory protections that would reduce air quality and put a million acres of state wetlands at risk for filling.

*  And they'll have a new front group to lend a hand, notes the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign:
A new group that says it supports policies to protect the state’s waters appears to be a front group with ties to powerful business, agriculture and manufacturing interests. 
The Wisconsin Water Alliance, which describes itself as a diverse group of state businesses and landowners, announced its formation on Tuesday. 
The alliance says water is a “vital natural resource” that must be protected for “current and future generations of families, cities, businesses, and others.”
*  Plus - - Big Dairy won a settlement on favorable terms from the DNR, where the DNR caved on pollution oversight in exchange for doing its assigned work:
The DNR has settled a power play lawsuit on terms favorable to the special interest that brought it - - Big Dairy - - which means there will be more muck flowing from big CAFOs already running amok.
The dairy interests claimed that the DNR was over-regulating them even though state auditors had found multiple problems with DNR enforcement actions, and the term "nitrate nightmare" has shown up in recent new reporting in La Crosse.

In case you don't think the settlement was on Big Dairy's terms, read no further than the headline on the industry's reaction:
Dairy Business Association wins victory in settlement of lawsuit with state regulators 
*  This time, it's Senate Bill 387, as amended by GOP State Sen. Tom Tiffany, (R-Hazelhurst). 

He's the Wisconsin legislature's leading special-interest-water carrier-on-water - - then, on behalf of a failed open-pit iron mine that would have blown apart the Bad River watershed, for example, and more recently to bring back more mining which discharges acidic waste.

Are you surprised that the mining efforts also have the aid of a new business front group
The Natural Resource Development Association said in a statement that changes in current mining laws "can create a new generation of mining jobs that will help employ thousands of people across Wisconsin through not only mining, but other industries that contribute to mining operations, like construction."
Nathan Conrad, executive director of the group, is a former spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. He declined, for now, to say who is behind the effort or providing financial support.
Which bring us to SB 387, and Tiffany's new attack for special interests on the state constitution's Public Trust ('the water belongs to everyone') Doctrine.

Here is the key text from SB 387, which also takes away important local control and decision-making and repeats a persistent piece of the Walker, top-down 'chamber-of-commerce' method of governing:
This substitute amendment exempts certain small, private ponds from the permitting requirements for removing material from the bed of a navigable body of water and from shoreland zoning laws.
Current law generally prohibits a person from removing material from the bed of a navigable body of water unless the Department of Natural Resources has issued an individual permit or a general permit authorizing the removal. 
This substitute amendment adds an exception to these permitting requirements for the removal of material from the bed of a self-contained pond that is five acres or less in size, has no public access, and is located on and entirely surrounded by land privately owned by the same person. 
Current law requires each county to zone by ordinance all shorelands in its unincorporated area. Shorelands are defined under current law as the area within certain distances from the ordinary high-water mark of navigable waters. Navigable waters are defined under current law as Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, all natural inland lakes and all streams, ponds, sloughs, flowages, and other waters, including the Wisconsin portion of boundary waters, that are navigable. 
This substitute amendment excludes from the definition of navigable waters a pond that is not hydrologically connected to a natural navigable waterway, does not discharge into a natural navigable waterway except as a result of storm events, is five acres or less in size, has no public access, and is entirely surrounded by land privately owned by the same person.  
Redefining "navigable waters." 

Throwing out "shorelines" definitions. 

Expanding dredging without oversight in the public interest. 

Weakening the law. To what end? 

This year, ponds of five acres or less. Next year, how about fifty? A little due process for the bigger lakes, eh?

Remember the State Supreme Court's warning that is out on this blog's front page about fillings here and there...

"A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body may be eaten away until it may no longer exist. Our navigable waters are a precious natural heritage, once gone, they disappear forever," wrote the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its 1960 opinion resolving Hixon v. PSC and buttressing The Public Trust Doctrine, Article IX of the Wisconsin State Constitution.

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