Friday, December 1, 2017

About privatized waters, Walker's corporatized WI DNR, many warnings

It isn't just Wisconsin wetlands and the water here that are being privatized, polluted and drained. It's the democracy itself.

Scott Walker is sacrificing to Big Business for GOP partisan permanence the democratic processes long-managed by bipartisan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources commonsense that provide and protect our state's clean water.

Despite the Wisconsin State Constitution saying the waters of the state belong to everyone, and that courts have ruled that the DNR must manage water's value and access with the public's interest first, according to the DNR itself.

Having noted in recent posts about the Kohler golf course,  and Kewaunee County CAFO operations and a major sand mine wetlands filling case that DNR reviews and public hearings have minimized science, public input and resource protection, let me also catalogue below some of the warnings issued by experts about this intentional, Walker-era damage.

And what is going to underly years soon-to-be-allowed toxifying metals' mining, and through wetland filling and environmental disregard by and for Foxconn, and, if not checked, for everyone who wants to fill any of one million acres of state-protected wetlands for private gain in Wisconsin.

You read that right: a million acres of wetlands could be removed from protection:
Often described as “isolated,” these wetlands are presumed by some to be low value. But they are not low value or truly isolated. Groundwater flows and the movement of plants and animals across the landscape connect “isolated” wetlands, enabling them to provide many of the same services as other wetlands, like purifying water. Many isolated wetlands also support plants and animals that occur nowhere else and are totally dependent on these wetlands.
One of the biggest impacts of this bill would be to allow drainage of isolated wetlands. To drain an area, a water outlet would be created to the nearest stream or other waterbody. During rain events, that would allow the floodwaters, nutrients and sediments the wetlands formerly stored to be flushed to the nearest stream, causing more water quality and flooding impacts downstream.
In short, we have been warned and the worst is yet to come. Here's the record:

From an updated and consolidated post last week:

* From a DNR staffer:
DNR administrators support any development project regardless of environmental impacts. They are not interested in the environment or public health. If they can't maneuver around the law by bending it, the legislature simply changes the law. 
Rich Republican donors feel free to call up the DNR Secretary and Governor and demand that their projects go through. This puts pressure on legislators and DNR upper management. It has created an atmosphere of desperation at all levels of the DNR.
I have witnessed administrators simply ignoring valid environmental and legal concerns from experienced, competent employees and I have seen administrators ignoring the process for determining environmental hazards when granting permits. It is true that DNR doesn't follow their own processes and skirts the law when possible...
Make no mistake, Wisconsin is being sold off piece by piece to rich individuals who own the party currently in the governors office...
They are stealing your water, polluting your air and compromising your health and wealth. We deserve better.
From commons' activist Laurie Longtine:
After the GOP takeover of Wisconsin nearly seven years ago, our once-proudly progressive state has sacrificed its public trust obligations to ensure environmental protection, public education, transparent government, corruption-free elections and resource management for the common good..
Big Business was prioritized over small business, environmental protections and individuals, Big Ag over family farms, private schools over public schools, development over wetlands and endangered species, bear and wolf hunting over established science, CAFOs over groundwater protection, and for-profit privatization over previously public services.
We were used to a Wisconsin Department of Transportation process that ignored public comments and dismissed legitimate concerns, but we expected better treatment and fair hearings at the Wisconsin DNR, where public input was sometimes actually heard and acted on. We expected to have continued citizen input on significant legislation. 
We were wrong...
Citizen comments reduced from five minutes to three, decisions made before public input was considered, rules changed at the last minute, legislation drafted by lobbyists and special interests that would directly benefit from it, controversial legislation passed in the middle of the night, cameras and recording devices disallowed in legislative chambers (even as legislators were permitted to bring guns into the Capitol), rumors were passed about projects being “a done deal” or “this is going to happen” to discourage opposition.... 
What happened to...the ideal of the commons?
I: From last year:

* From this updated post which began June 2, 2016:

A lobbyist noted DNR policy and procedure changes that have tilted agency activity and decisions towards regulated businesses: 
No legislative analysis of bills by Department staff. No testimony on bills unless asked by a legislator... DNR used to have written instructions on providing testimony. That no longer exists. 
Decisions on permits, policies, responses to FOI's [freedom of information requests] are all made by Division Administrators (political appointees). 
Routine for permit applicants to meet with senior staff (Secretary's Office) with no front line staff working on permits attending - or even notified of these meetings. 
From the same post:

* Another lobbyist said:
...for retired DNR workers...there's deep dismay about the selling off of the agency, the trashing of its mission, the disrespect for agency workers (and all public employees, for that matter, by the Walker regime). 
The most deeply dismaying, for former DNR types, is how acquiescent and compliant newer DNR workers are to this philosophy of government -- how they really know nothing else and they think this is normal. Retirees understand younger DNR workers have families to support and careers to build, but it pains them to see them robbed of their autonomy and professionalism -- and that newer workers may not even fully understand the robbery.  
*  A former staffer said: 
The most alarming issue to me is the great waste of decades of sound science, compiled overtime in on-going studies and data collection. WI had more information about our natural landscape than most states. Abolishing science services put an end to decades long studies vital to maintaining and recovering rare and endangered plants and animals as well as understanding natural communities as information on resilience for climate change. 
* A current employee on personal time said: 
The DNR is currently run by people who understand public relations spin but not the complexity of the natural resources they are responsible for...Communications staff, generally not trained specifically in resource communication, answer questions with talking points..usually developed by upper management - political appointees - and legal staff. The information provided is biased and superficial.
I do believe that all the natural resources of Wisconsin belong to the people of Wisconsin...I don't understand why people who live in one of the most beautiful and environmentally diverse places in the world voted for environmental degradation. 
*  These remarks below were among those added with permission to an updated version of the post from Gordon Stevenson, an engineer, 26-year DNR veteran, and author of the first permits for CAFOs in Wisconsin as Chief of Runoff Management.
For the majority of my career, water policy decisions were based on the strong bond between law and science, the people in charge of making those decisions had conservation and environmental protection credentials, and my colleagues and I shared the belief that Wisconsin's true and sustaining wealth is its clean water.
Much of that is now changed at DNR. Wisconsin DNR's water quality permit program has been found seriously deficient by the US Environmental Protection Agency. DNR is failing to protect downstream water from upstream pollution sources, they are allowing already impaired water bodies to get worse and they are suppressing the public's ability to challenge water quality permit decisions...
Wisconsin DNR's authority to protect Wisconsin's water resources is delegated from EPA. Under the delegation agreement, DNR is obligated to administer the federal Clean Water Act. DNR is not doing so. On behalf of 16 Wisconsin citizens, Midwest Environmental Advocates has filed a Citizens Petition for Corrective Action with the US Environmental Protection agency to correct these deficiencies. The petition seeks to restore the credible water quality protection program that we once had in this state.
We're arriving at an important crossroads in Wisconsin. We have our own version of Flint, Michigan in Kewaunee County where citizens cannot drink the water and we have our own version of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. A dead zone now also exists in Green Bay that runs from the City of Green Bay all the way up to Marinette... 
I am even more encouraged that so many Wisconsin citizens believe like I do: that water policy decisions should be based on the strong bond between law and science, that the people in charge of making water quality decisions should have the credentials to do so, and that Wisconsin's true and sustaining wealth is its clean water."
In a subsequent email, Stevenson said:
In addition, DNR management has made it clear to staff that environmental advocacy is no longer the core mission of DNR and staff are disallowed from doing so.  What was once a guardian of Wisconsin’s natural heritage is now reduced to a rubber-stamping vendor of licenses and permits without oversight.


Anonymous said...

The article about the new DNR chief lawyer, appointed by Walker, is frightening. Just a reminder that before Walker, agencies hired lawyers through the civil service process. Walker added these governor appointed chief legal counsels to each agency so that he could control what they did. These appointees are political appointees who have to do the bidding of the governor.

James Rowen said...

Good point. I will add that. Thanks.