Saturday, June 16, 2018

DNR highlights Stepp's career. Let's fill in the blanks

[Updated from 6/16/18] The latest issue of the WI DNR magazine "Wisconsin Natural Resources" carries a retrospective 50-year-timeline that barely gives former Secretary Cathy Stepp's almost seven-year tenure its due.

She gets these credits:
 "*As DNR Secretary launches Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and redesigned website for better customer service. * CWD is detected in Washburn County and the state hires an independent deer trustee to review Wisconsin Deer management. * Voluntary Public Access Program is enacted to encourage landowners to allow public use. * Participation in Green Tier programs grows from 46 businesses in 2009 to 86 in 2010. * DNR introduces streamlined water quality permit process for large-scale dairies."
I know - - space considerations - - but here, for the record, is some of what did not make it into print, as Stepp, with her well-documented corporate focus:

* Had climate change information and links deleted from the DNR's Great Lakes climate change webpage - - discovered by this blog. The story gets wide circulation.

* Dragged her feet complying with federal clean water obligations

* Eliminated initial air quality and pollution alerts, so by the time a notice was actually issued it was too late for at-risk people and groups already engaging in outdoor activities to do anything about it.

* Defended the many program and personal cuts at DNR on her watch by saying that wildlife, clean air and water don't pay the bills. 
In employee meetings she has referred to some DNR activities as beloved but nonessential “glitter and rainbows.” In a videotaped management seminar in Florida, she described difficulty remaking the DNR, saying she has needed to tell employees that “deer and the butterflies and clean air and clean water ... don’t pay taxes and they don’t sign our paychecks.”
* Though holding what is traditionally a non-partisan position, Stepp made overtly partisan appearances on Milwaukee right-wing AM talk radio in support of legislation to enable a controversial open-pit iron ore mine in wetland-rich northwestern Wisconsin just upriver from Ojibwe waters and wild-rice growing estuaries.

The mine never opened. The bill, written with input by the mining company which also secretly routed large campaign donations to benefit Gov. Walker, was passed by the legislature and signed by Walker. 

The law is still on the books. It drastically reduced iron ore permit review periods and watered-down public participation in the permitting process.

* Gave $500,000 to a group which claimed sporting goals, but turned out to have been aligned with pro-Walker political activities and did not even have proper tax-exempt paperwork. After an uproar, the grant was rescinded.

* Assigned DNR work opposing President Obama's clean air program to a senior DNR politically-appointed staffer who had been the environmental spokesman at a former employer, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. The group has a long history opposing some clean air initiatives.

* Supported Walker's defunding of the century-old DNR's bi-monthly magazine. The move, allegedly to save money though the magazine was self-supporting, provoked such widespread opposition that the decision was overturned.

The magazine survives as a quarterly, and has yet to run any more articles about climate change which some had cited as a reason for its proposed elimination.

* Did not fight for science staff positions eliminated by Gov. Walker.

* Wished for staffers as pliable as the restaurant workers she had supervised in a previous job as a McDonald's manager.

* Supported selling state parks naming rights and backed the diminution of the DNR's long-standing policy oversight board to merely advisory status - - a scheme which went nowhere after widespread backlash. 

* Did throw staff statewide a Halloween party.

* Moved to reduce inspection and enforcement actions, stressing voluntary compliance by the regulated.

* Moved towards allowing the regulated to hire private experts to draft their DNR permits.

*  Provided a key Walker donor-developer with years of free access to DNR staffers tasked with facilitating approvals and plans for the construction of a privately-pwned golf course on a unique nature preserve and inside an adjoining state park on the Lake Michigan shoreline a what is now the southern tip of Sheboygan.

* Created a 'do not respond' blacklist of people it didn't want to hear from, and played other games with open records.

* Further tilted what at the time was a wolf management advisory committee to a pro-wolf hunting rubber-stamp by removing most of the wolf hunt opponents.

* Routinely failed to follow its own pollution enforcement rules, and allowed widespread fecal contamination in rural water supplies near large dairy cattle operations which vastly expanded under Stepp's management.

*  Allowed a senior staffer to influence the issuance of civil citations only against a human waste hauling polluter who had donated to the staffer's earlier political campaign committee. The civil citation penalty was approved by Stepp's deputy - - himself a former building organization executive.

Had DNR employees remove a pet deer from a private animal shelter, and euthanize it. The DNR's website then crashed after large numbers of people objected; a panicked Gov. Walker hurriedly proposed a bill to make sure there were no more such outrages.

* Separately shot and killed a deer during hunting season. The DNR memorialized it photographically, below.

Stepp disclosed she did not make eye contact with the animal before she fired.

Some commenters have noted that the deer was pretty small.
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
* Lauded reduced environmental reviews for the Foxconn project, and waxed eloquently over its the arrival  - - despite its promised wetland filling and farmland destruction. And laid the groundwork for quick DNR air pollution permit approvals - - no surprise there - - after her departure.

Those approvals will allow Foxconn to spew nearly 800 tons of new, annual emissions.

Another DNR approval OK'ed a diversion of millions of gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan, and the projected return to the lake of Foxconn wastewater with as yet-to-be-identified substances. 

* In her capacity as a private citizen - - but identified by media as the DNR Secretary - - Stepp spoke at a rally in support of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, where she urged women voters to back him - - "this is our time, ladies," - - and later claimed she was unaware that Trump was a climate change denier.

* Resigned her DNR secretaryship in 2017 to work in Donald Trump's EPA run by the environmentally-hostile Scott Pruitt. She is now director of the key, Great Lakes regional office, headquartered in Chicago, and oversees EPA policies in Wisconsin.

* Having weakened the state's natural resources' protections, concluded a leading, neutral observer.


Richard E. Schallert said...

A fairly typical example of the "barbarians" running our government(s), including our governor as well as our president. The wealthy and well off are doing very well; the rest of us are (temporarily) basking in the current upsurge in the economy. That won't last long. Worst of all,there are actually over 60,000,000 people who voted for the current Wizard of Oz in the White House. And he is destroying most of our long term world wide allies, thus giving China some golden opportunities to gain a more predominant place in the world economy. Is he our president? Or a foreign agent for Putin?

Anonymous said...

Stepp was a "case study" on how to destroy a regulatory agency and it is being copied now on the national level by Republicans. She oversaw a huge change in mission that was often not openly stated to the public as well as a dismantling of public service and employee rights.

Nick VanderPuy said...

I love it when you take meanness pills in the morning before you blog. Thanks for the hard hitting piece.

James Rowen said...

Sometimes, two.

Betsey said...

Stepp's only highlights were in her hair.