Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cathy Stepp's lingering shadow over Wisconsin, Foxconn

Three fun facts about aligning stars and staffers as Foxconn - - complete archive on the issues, here - - applies for a big Lake Michigan diversion:

*  1. Matt Moroney, the former WI DNR Deputy Secretary whom Walker has  promoted to state point person on the Foxconn project, is a former developer association director who opposed the Great Lakes Compact because it would impede economic activity in Wisconsin.

...the compact is far too limiting on Wisconsin residents, usurps state autonomy to accomplish Wisconsin objectives...if the water cannot be utilized for economic growth, being located next to the Great Lakes will put Wisconsin at an economic disadvantage.
I copied out his extensive remarks on the matter, here.

* 2. The Wisconsin DNR - - which Moroney helped run on a daily basis for four years before becoming Walker's staff director deputy - - is the only such agency under Compact review rules will assess the Foxconn diversion application, and as I recently wrote, there is a belief that the diversion's recipient and purposes do not meet the Compact's basic public use criteria:

And as Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters notes, diverting Great Lakes water principally to serve a new business - - thus giving one state among the eight in the Compact, and two Canadian provinces, too, an economic advantage with a finite and shared resources - - is not why the governing water management Great Lakes Compact was created: 
Under the compact, diversions are meant to provide water for uses such as municipal drinking water and groundwater replenishment for family wells. This is the first time a state in the compact has been so brazen as to actually suggest a diversion almost exclusively for a private company’s manufacturing needs.
Fascinating, then, that one of Moroney's earlier objections to the Compact seemed to envision a diversion for a Foxconn-type project - - and now he is in a position to implement his vision:
Diversions Used for Only Public Water Supply Purposes Page 27, Line 1 and 2 and Page 29, Lines 5 and 6 – Is this the policy that Wisconsin wants to implement? What about diversions for electric generation? What about for a large industry user which would mean jobs for the region? 
* 3. Also with a sharp crystal ball - - Moroney's long-time boss at the DNR Cathy Stepp - - featured in today's Chicago Tribune - -  who said in her farewell email late last year as she headed off to wreak havoc in Trump's EPA that agency reorganizations she oversaw were aimed at facilitating a project just like Foxconn
When we started our alignment plan two years ago we had no idea a Foxconn project was on the horizon but it’s exactly what we accomplished in alignment that makes us even more ready than we were two years ago to work on this transformational project in a One DNR spirit. 
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 

Walker's Foxconn Fever infects state road repair budget

Idiocracy on full display.

All hail Governor Pothole as his Foxconn Fever spreads with predictable side-effects:
Funding for Wisconsin road maintenance plummets. Foxconn cited. 
A new road project serving the $10 billion Foxconn plant in Racine County could reduce funding for other state roads by as much as $90 million in the current budget, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
The reduction leaves state highway rehabilitation funding as much as $870 million short of the $2.4 billion per biennium the Department of Transportation estimates is needed to maintain road conditions at current levels for the next decade.

Future of Wisconsin waters, wetlands in State Senate Committee's hands

The fates of clean water, valuable wetlands which filter them and citizen-led environmental protection in Wisconsin are in the hands of the State Senate Natural Resources committee.

Raise the alarm: the matter cannot be overstated.

That's because the Committee, with a GOP majority, may vote on an ultra-special-interest amendment which was adopted as the Assembly adjourned last week written to enable rare wetland filling for a sand mine operation despite the fact that the project is being contested right now by Midwest Environmental Advocates, Clean Wisconsin and citizens in a Monroe County judicial hearing.

Somewhat like finding out that were you a defendant in a legal case that just as it was going to the jury, some 'lawmakers' somewhere passed a law that said even if you win the case it doesn't matter. 

Like the way the old Politburo used to run things in the Soviet Union.

Your rights? What rights?

There is fresh reporting that Committee chairman Robert Cowles, perhaps the last environmentally-attuned GOP Senator left in that body, says he will not allow the bill to proceed, but he tempered his position with this reality-check, according to the AP

While state Sen. Rob Cowles said it wasn’t his plan to consider it, “there’s always forces above us that can override this guy.”
And as the AP notes:
The bill before the Senate committee does not yet include the provision meant to benefit Meteor Timber. Even if Cowles doesn’t pass it, the full state Senate could decide to take up the Assembly version of the bill when it meets on its last planned session day March 20.
Here how to find the committee and its members: Contact them, thank Sen. Cowles for his pledge and tell the Senators to kill the amendment.
Senator Cowles (Chair)Senator Petrowski (Vice-Chair)Senator OlsenSenator MillerSenator Hansen
And find your State Senator, here, or through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-362-9472  let her or him know that they should not support the amendment if  it gets to their desks.

There's no way to soft-pedal what is just the latest, and maybe final outrage in the intentional, money-driven partisan nullification of Wisconsin environmental history, priorities, protections, standards at the expense of citizens' rights and environmental rationality which has been going on since the early hours of Scott Walker's more than seven-year reign.

A reign he opened with the unilateral suspension of a legally-established, routine review of a wetland-filling permit for a project near Lambeau Field proposed by one of his campaign donors.

It was an imperious, unambiguous warning shot for all to see across the political environment which the Legislature dutifully affirmed.

The Walker/GOP/Legislative/big business war on the environment has been waged unabated through his installation of senior pro-business officials atop the Department of Natural Resources with the "chamber of commerce mentality" Walker said he wanted there - - and, again, he did it for all to see, which is why the DNR, continually stripped of staff, funding and mission now better resembles a state Department of Commerce than the science-based, public health and environmental protection agency it had always been.

And is run now by an actual, retired chamber of commerce executive than the chamber-of-commerce obedient Cathy Stepp, she having recently moved to work her builders' will on Trump's version of the US EPA great lakes regional office in Chicago.

And Walker's redefinition of state government as an arm of business will accelerate later this year when Walker moves the weakened DNR's inspection and permitting-reviews for the state's expanding heavily-polluting large dairy cattle feeding operations from the DNR he has systematically savaged to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection which through multiple marketing activities including the World Dairy Expo in Madison drives Wisconsin milk, cheese and dairy sales production worldwide.

And maybe it's more accurate that the tipping point for clean, green, publicly-focused environmental policies in Wisconsin was already passed when Walker and the Legislature gave Foxconn the right to fill wetlands, reroute waterways and build on lake beds without even as much as environmental studies on the company's 3,000 acre site and routine permit applications which should have been routinely required.

Because wetlands absorb flood waters that can end up in your basement, and drain to waterways which the Wisconsin Constitution says belong to everyone - - though the Walker/Legislative/special interest war waged what is known as the Public Trust Doctrine it is obviously winning.

Little wonder that in the wake of those favors for Foxconn, the Legislature lifted the ban on toxifying metal mining in Wisconsin, and removed state protections for roughly 100,000 acres of wetlands statewide.

So we can expect a steady flow of special bills, permissions and other exemptions so businesses can fill, pave over, cut down or other wise pollute the land - - a flow as predictable and harmful as the increased flow of pollutants into Wisconsin rivers and streams documented by the DNR and archived with the EPA - - 

- - but only because it's required by a portion of the federal Clean Water Act not yet obliterated by Trump on behalf of coal mining, uranium mining companies, big western cattle ranchers and timber businesses.

So there is a lot on the line come next Wednesday when the State Senate Natural Resources meets in Madison. 

If the bills amendment dies there, there is still a chance that special interests cannot get anything they want from from compliant legislators and the Governor they blindly serve.

If the bill is voted out of committee, it means that State Senate GOP Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald knows he has the votes to send it to Walker for a signature.

Which will firmly establish the precedent that even where permitting is required to fill a wetland in Wisconsin, the Legislature can simply reify its contaminated version of a Wisconsin Idea by passing a special bill to tear up that permit and send in the bulldozers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Walker's 'I know you are but what am I?' tweet burp

What a phony: Walker says on Twitter that a Democratic lawsuit to force him to schedule routine special elections is just a fund-raising ploy. So he says "we need your help and support right away! Donate today..."

  • This is just the first attack of many from former Obama AG Eric Holder's D.C. special interest group as they try to defeat us in Wisconsin. That's why we need your help and support right away! Donate today...

  • Just as we warned, the D.C. special interest group of former Obama AG Eric Holder is targeting us in WI. They will likely use this lawsuit to raise more money to use against us in the fall.

  • Foxconn water diversion undermines Great Lakes Compact. Hearing 3/7.

    The hearing on diverting Lake Michigan water by the multiple millions of gallons daily to serve the heavily-subsidized proposed Foxconn development takes place Wednesday evening, March 7 in Sturtevant.

    The amount of water to be diverted daily exceeds what was eventually granted through a long, drawn-out and controversial battle to bring Lake Michigan to serve the entire City of Waukesha and some acreage outside its borders.

    Details are here.
    Public HearingPublic Comment Period
    Date & TimeLocation
    Wed., March 7, 2018
    Presentation: 6:00 p.m.
    Public hearing: 6:30 p.m.
    SC Johnson iMET Center
    2320 Renaissance Blvd
    Sturtevant WI 53177
    Persons wishing to comment on the diversion application should do so by close of business on March 21, 2018.
    Hard copy comments can be sent to:
    DNR Drinking Water and Groundwater Program DG/5
    Attn: Adam Freihoefer
    PO Box 7921
    Madison WI 53707-7921
    A complete archive on Foxconn developments is here.

    And as Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters notes, diverting Great Lakes water principally to serve a new business - - thus giving one state among the eight in the Compact, and two Canadian provinces, too, an economic advantage with a finite and shared resources - - is not why the governing water management Great Lakes Compact was created: 
    Under the compact, diversions are meant to provide water for uses such as municipal drinking water and groundwater replenishment for family wells. This is the first time a state in the compact has been so brazen as to actually suggest a diversion almost exclusively for a private company’s manufacturing needs.
    The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is taking public comment on the plan until March 21st. The DNR needs to understand what’s at risk if this plan is approved. Sign up to attend the hearing!

    When Wisconsin scrubbed climate change from official websites...

    Because Trump, key enablers, need the help in 2018, 2020...

    Key letters, number missing from Ryan today

    The House Speaker (I watched his news conference live and will post a link to it soon) weaved around the FL school shooting without "AR-15" and "NRA" escaping his lips. 

    Ditto after Las Vegas.

    And after earlier mass shootings
    "I haven’t thought of proposing gun legislation, I think the big problem we have is enforcing the law as we have on the books right now,” Ryan said. 
    Paul Ryan's official Speaker photo. In the background is the American Flag.

    WI Assembly GOP sneakily green-lights rare wetland destruction

    [Updates from 2/23: 1. A former career DNR staffer testified Monday that the permit in question was approved after intervention by politically-appointed DNR officials who overruled expert, non-partisan line experts. 2. A former DNR water lawyer testified today that a special bill quietly adopted by the Assembly will block citizen input into environmental preservation and create other problems.  Hearing information and context, is here, a a bigger picture view is here.] 

    Contemptible Wisconsin Republican environmental haters just don't stop.

    This relentless Walker-inspired avaricious attack on the environment, fair play and Wisconsin heritage - - all for the shallowest of 'motivations' - - partisan gain, political position and donor advantage - - began in the early days of the Walker administration.

    That's when a Walker donor-developer was granted special permission through interventions by Walker and the Legislature to build on a wetland near Lambeau Field before a DNR review was completed.

    That began a seven-year war - - orchestrated in the Governor's Office, abetted by malleable legislators, fueled by donors and trade groups and dutifully implemented by senior managers in the DNR and other agencies - - kept surface waters polluted and ground water contaminated- - and against all reason is about to hand over acreage within popular Kohler Andrae State Park so a prominent Walker donor can fine tune his plans for an upscale golf course development.

    But wait: you haven't seen it all yet, because this disgraceful, purposeful one-party sell-out of the public's interests and resources just got more purposely and disgracefully sleazier.

    Not content with opening the state to toxifying metal mining, and removing protection from 100,000 wetland acres, and allowing Foxconn to build on Racine County lake beds and flood-mitigating wetlands, the GOP-led Wisconsin Assembly outdid all its water-carrying for big corporations with a quietly-introduced amendment when the Assembly was close to adjourning that legislated permit exemptions so a single company could more easily cut down

    a acres of rare Wisconsin timber.
    The exemptions, in the form of a last-minute amendment to a wetlands bill, were written to benefit Meteor Timber, an Atlanta-based company, which is planning to build a sand processing plant and rail spur near I-94 in Monroe County catering to the frac sand industry.
    The land now features a rare hardwoods swamp, and in May 2017 the Department of Natural Resources approved the company’s plans to destroy 16.25 [acres] of wetlands in exchange for the company making other environmental improvements... 
    The amendment would exempt Meteor from some of the requirements the DNR imposed on the project. 
    Like I said, they never stop.
    Image result for Wisconsin forests photos

    Monday, February 26, 2018

    Back when WI had more respect for the land and water

    I write often about the Walker-era systematic destruction of land and water in Wisconsin - - here and here and here, ad infinitum - - so I was struck by the wording on this little plaque I'd not seen before in Milwaukee's Lake Park.
    Though I wasn't sure which trees were being referenced. I decided these would do. Unlike the trees and waters sacrificed by the self-interested and short/sighted for careerism, or vanity and monument building and profit.

    Big business property tax cut game should skewer Walker, GOP do-nothing Legislature

    I am predicting that this issue is going to bite Republicans deservedly hard this election year.

    Because while Walker wants gimmicky one-time sales tax holidays and child credits as election-year tricks, the GOP is enabling its big business supporters and donors to get their property tax assessments cut permanently - - so yours' will go up to cover local governments' revenue shortfalls - - by failing to close the so-called "dark store" loophole:
    ...a tax loophole that lets big-box retailers reduce their property taxes at the expense of homeowners and small businesses...
    You will be hearing more about tax favoritism in WISCONSIN- - in fact, you can make some noise about it - -  so get ahead of the curve, call our legislators and spread the word about how major manufacturers get breaks, too;
    Data from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue show that 136 companies obtained reduced assessments for more than 200 manufacturing facilities around the state between 2012 and 2016.
    At least 84 companies appealed their assessed value to the department in 2017. Many of those cases are pending.
    Among the largest losers:
    ► Manufacturers in Milwaukee County reduced their assessed values by more than $18 million, the most of any county.
    ► Outagamie County had the second-biggest reduction, losing $14.5 million in assessed value.
    ► Brown County lost more than $11 million...Oneida County lost nearly $4.5 million and Marathon County lost more than $2.5 million in taxable property.

    Why WI GOP gerrymander defender is close to WI. Sup. Ct. seat

    Wisconsin Republicans have a jaw-dropping bank shot lined up involving all three branches of government.

    At the same time the US Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the constitutionality of the GOP's secretively-drafted 2011 gerrymandered redistricting plan - - a scheme that has helped keep Republican legislators n power, Michael Screnock - - who as a private attorney helped defend that redistricting plan - - just won the February primary election for a seat on the State Supreme Court.

    How does that look? - - elevating to the State Supreme Court's doorstep and perhaps to a justiceship one of the defenders of a legislative redistricting already ruled unconstitutional by a three-judge US District Court panel.

    And some observers feel after 2017 arguments that the US Supreme Court may rule that the redistricting scheme unconstitutional. 

    Opponents of political gerrymandering had reason for optimism at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the likely swing vote, appearing more in sync with liberal colleagues who seemed convinced that a legislative map can be so infected with political bias that it violates the Constitution.
    Were these scenarios to unfold - - a Screnock State Supreme Court win and a loss at the US Supreme Court for the redistricting plan he defended - - drive another stake into the already-tattered reputation of the State Supreme Court.

    Here are some admittedly brief highlights in a long, controversial timeline:

    * Following the 2010 elections and census, Republicans controlling the Legislature undertook redistricting with the help of a brace of private attorneys. 

    * The redistricting's maps results were blatantly partisan, litigation ensured, and the defense of the gerrymander was so messy that fines were levied by a frustrated federal judge. 

    Nonetheless, the plan remained in force after two districts' boundaries were redrawn.

    * Meanwhile, Gov. Walker appointed then-still-private attorney Screnock from among six applicants to an open seat on the Sauk County District Court in 2015.

    Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, among others, noted at the time that Screnock had been connected to the redistricting case along with Atty. James Troupis whom Walker similarly named to fill a judicial vacancy in Dane County:

    They were also among the lawyers hired in 2011 by majority Republican lawmakers to successfully defend a plan that redrew legislative district boundaries to generally favor Republicans in elections through at least 2020.
    *  Meanwhile, attorneys for Democrats won a fresh, 2-1 ruling against the scheme by a three-judge Federal panel.
    The judges found Republicans had gone overboard in taking partisanship into account in drawing the maps, thus violating the free association rights and the guarantee of equal protection under the law. The judges noted Republicans created a special measure to calculate the likelihood they would win particular districts and labeled maps they drew that benefited Republicans as "assertive" and "aggressive."
    *  And that ruling, disputed by Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel, is what is now before the US Supreme Court. 

    So while all parties await the US Supreme Court's decision likely later his year, it would be bizarre but instructive of Wisconsin politics if the GOP's redistricting scheme which has helped Walker get what he wants from a hyper-partisan State Legislature were ruled unconstitutional while one of that scheme's defenders ended up on the State Supreme Court because Walker gave him judicial visibility and electoral credibility.