Monday, December 25, 2017

At EPA, Stepp should recuse from Stepp's WI DNR record review

Imagine that you take your doctor to court for a long pattern of negligence, and suddenly, there's a new judge on the case: your doctor!

That's pretty much what may be facing Wisconsin citizens who filed a detailed legal petition with the EPA for corrective action (PCA) to fix multiple deficiencies in Wisconsin's application of federal water law under the direction of WI DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp - - yet the very same Stepp has just been appointed director of the EPA's regional office that includes Wisconsin and makes decisions about EPA policies and federal water law enforcement in the state.

If that's not an absurdity and a conflict-of-interest, tell me what is.
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
Likewise, Stepp as EPA regional director for Wisconsin should play no role in any EPA decision-making related to Foxconn, whose environmental exemptions she championed, or the controversial Kohler golf course because the DNR had under her direction been tilting approvals, reviews and hearings in the project's direction.

These projects need an honest broker, a role Stepp long ago forfeited.

There's no way Stepp as the newly-appointed EPA regional director for Wisconsin should assess through funding, findings, and policy decisions whether Stepp as DNR Secretary for nearly seven years properly handled her obligations to the people of Wisconsin under federal water law enforcement authority which flows to the states through the EPA.

And especially whether Stepp's foot-dragging is why the deficiencies which the EPA said should have been repaired by 2014 are not yet fully fixed.

The public interest law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a Petition for Corrective action, PCA), in 2015 with the EPA to force the DNR into compliance with the Clean Water Act on 75 matters which the Walker administration knew about but failed to repair under Cathy Stepp's tenure as Walker's DNR Secretary for almost seven years.

I have written several times about the 75 federal water law problems Wisconsin was not addressing in a timely fashion, including this 2012 posting:

...the DNR is dragging the agency's feet complying with 75 clean water-policy "deficiencies" the US Environmental Protection Administration told the DNR in an unusually tough letter last year to fix.
As the public-interest law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates framed it on July 29, 2011:
...the EPA has issued a letter to the DNR that points out the agency’s “numerous apparent omissions and deviations between Wisconsin’s current statute and [Clean Water Act] requirements.” The EPA is requiring that the “omissions and corrected quickly”, and that the state prove it has “adequate authority” to rectify the program’s problems or provide a plan to establish the required authority.
The EPA said the DNR should make those water program repairs in two years , but Stepp told the EPA in writing that her agency's rule-making takes 31 months from start to finish - - unless, of course, Stepp wants to use available, fast-tracking processes.
I wrote about the petition for corrective action, (PCA) in October, 2015:
Citizens petitioners with the assistance of attorneys at Midwest Environmental Advocates have asked the US Environmental Protection Agency to push the DNR to comply with earlier findings that Wisconsin had a stunning seventy-five deficiencies in enforcing the US Clean Water Act statewide:
The group said that the DNR is backsliding in its regulatory role, noting problems are not improving and in some cases are worsening in areas such runoff pollution, well contamination and algae-clogged lakes.
In July 2011, the EPA cited 75 deficiencies by the DNR in its handling of water regulation matters and ordered the DNR to address them. DNR enforces water regulation under the federal Clean Water Act, with oversight by the EPA.
If a state isn't complying with the federal act, the EPA can take away its authority and assume the regulation. 
The parties aren't asking the EPA to remove that authority now, but to take a greater oversight role and hold a public hearing in Wisconsin. Without improvement, the group says it will ask the EPA to take away the DNR's water regulation authority.
The latest update from MEA on the petition is here, and MEA reports:
EPA continues to investigate certain claims set forth in the Petition and provide regular, publicly-available updates regarding which claims are resolved and, for unresolved issues, what corrective action(s) the state must take.  
The most recent update on EPA’s investigation occurred in November 2017, when Agency staff deemed as fully resolved just over half of the “75 issues” or water pollution program deficiencies identified by EPA in 2011.  
The remainder of the issues are in various stages of resolution, with less than a handful labeled as completely unresolved. EPA has not made preliminary findings with respect to issues set forth in the PCA that were not identified by the EPA back in 2011. 
This means that over two years have passed since filing of the PCA, and Petitioners still have no answer with respect to certain important deficiencies in the DNR’s water pollution permitting program.   
EPA and DNR program staff have the will to improve the program, but top-down pressure is hampering comprehensive progress.
At a minimum, Stepp should recuse herself from any role in assessing the Kohler golf course project, the pending water program petition or implementing solutions to fix the remaining deficiencies. 

No comments: