Friday, March 2, 2018

For WI environment, February was 28-day GOP siege

February is the shortest month, but Wisconsin special interests and their government enablers used it all to broadly advance their war on the environment.


*  February 1st was the day on the Wisconsin DNR, after an assembly-line review, effectively added five years and additional capacity to permitted operation at Kinnard Farms, one of the highest-profile and controversial so-called CAFOs in Kewaunee County where fecal contamination in residential water is a persistent, known health hazard.

You may remember that Kinnard operations were the subject of what is called a contested hearing a few years ago at which opponents won a ruling by a judge who found that the DNR could address groundwater contamination by limiting the size of a CAFO herd - - history, here - - a ruling which then-DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said she would not enforce.

Wisconsin GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel backed Stepp up, though a Dane County judge subsequently sided with the hearing judge because the DNR's role does include the cumulative effects of groundwater usage.

More on Schimel's broad support for deregulating groundwater at the expense of the public interest and further undermining state environmental rules, is here.

*  Speaking of contested hearings, there was another such proceeding underway all this week at which opponents have been opposing the DNR's approval of a permit so a Georgia-based sand processor can destroy a wetland and rare timber stand in Monroe County.

And while the hearing was exposing problems with the permit and former DNR staffers testified that senior agency political appointees had applied pressure internally to get the permit issued, a freshman GOP legislator who does not represent the district in which the proposed sand processing facility would be located got the Assembly on February 22nd to pass a bill amendment at the 11th hour prior to session adjournment that if signed into law will void the hearing so the wetland and timber destruction could proceed.

* On February 20th, the Legislature sent to the Governor a bill removing state protections from an estimated 100,000 wetland acres statewide.

The fill-the-wetlands crowd said Wisconsin's state-level protection was an overreach avoided by nearly all other states - - though if adhering to other states' practices is the new Wisconsin standard, then we await Wisconsin GOP-led legislation to stop routing state taxpayer-paid millions to private, parochial schools tuition.

And also to legislate an end to the only-in-Wisconsin treatment of first-time OWI arrests as mere tickets.

* And on the last day - - February 28th - - of this cruelest of months in recent Wisconsin environmental history - - the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - the DNR's 'oversight' body now dominated by Walker appointees and the 'chamber of commerce mentality' direction he installed atop the DNR from the first day of his administration - - granted a powerful Walker donor the access rights he'd ought to public acreage inside a popular Lake Michigan shoreline state park.

That Board's decision will help the donor more easily construct a privately-owned, upscale golf course, with a clubhouse, driving range, dining room, parking and maintenance facilities, on much of a 247-acre wetland-woodland-wildlife habitat-rare dune-and-native inhabitants' artifact-rich nature preserve set to be remade and essentially flattened.

So...February was quite the month for Team Walker and the special interests whose water he and Schimel and GOP legislators carry in the State Capitol.

As to the clean water everyone else needs - - and which Wisconsin Constitution says belongs to everyone - - February went badly.

And just wait until the substantial, unregulated and unprecedented, review-free Foxconn wetland fillings advance...and toxifying metal mining companies have their way with recent Walker's blessing on sensitive lands...even at the river's edge...and already-intensifying and destructive rains keep coming.

Money will be spent on sand-bagging, and always-campaigning Walker will play Governor and go on one of his flood inspection tours, and money will be spent on everything from drying basements and replacing furniture to extensive efforts to clean our growing list of polluted waterways - - but know this:

*  None of what took place last month was an accident.

*  Nature bats last.

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