Saturday, June 9, 2018

WI public officials tilt land, water conservation to corporate goals

A ruling on the validity of a wetland-fill permit the Wisconsin DNR has granted for controversial golf course development on a nature preserve and inside a popular Lake Michigan shoreline state park will be issued in several months, reports The Sheboygan Press.

It's worth noting that:

* Grassroots proponents of wetland preservation and clean water have won two recent such cases before state administrative law judges, and;

* These kinds of cases can be extended on appeal for years;

*  And at any stage can be abetted by the very coincidence-free, highly-partisan, ideologically-based 'chamber of commerce mentality' which Gov. Walker installed atop the DNR and which guides decision-making by other GOP-directed or influenced Wisconsin officials and agencies - - from the State Supreme Court to the state Department of Administration to Attorney General Brad Schimel to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - ostensibly the DNR's 'public' oversight agency - - to obscure legislators to the more powerful Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Here's some relevant history.

Just last month, another contested case hearing ended with a win for opponents of a Georgia-based sand mine facility in Monroe County after the judge ruled the DNR had improperly approved a wetland-fill permit. 
Administrative Law Judge Eric Defort ruled Friday that the DNR improperly granted the permits because the agency lacked enough information to determine the environmental impact, Meteor's mitigation plan wasn't adequate and the project would cause significant adverse impacts.
Separately, there was a win by Kewaunee County opponents of a DNR-awarded permit allowing an expansion of one of the state's largest dairy cattle feeding and milking operations. 

That ruling was affirmed by a circuit court and is under further appeal by the DNR after GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel maneuvered it to a presumably more pro-business outcome in conservative Waukesha County.

...Jeffrey Boldt, an administrative law judge hearing the case, said in 2014 that polluted wells in the region represented a "massive regulatory failure to protect groundwater..."
Boldt allowed the expansion to proceed, but with a limit on the number of cows and a requirement that wells be drilled to detect potential bacteria contamination...
But eight months later in 2015, then-DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, asked the Department of Justice whether her agency had the authority to impose such conditions.
One day later, Schimel's office replied that the DNR did not. 
Schimel's maneuver was among several he's undertaken to undermine grassroots proponents of clean water and tilt the scales of justice towards corporate interests. 

Including his issuance of a favorable opinion that granted large-scale groundwater withdrawals to big operators which they had openly demanded GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos deliver. 
While Wisconsin is abusing, over pumping and contaminating our groundwater, the Legislature's GOP Assembly Leader Robin Vos - - a leading Wisconsin corporate water-carrier - - is seeking an opinion from GOP Attorney General and fellow corporate water-carrier Brad Schimel that could turn over more groundwater to corporate control and away from public oversight:
Since taking over state government in 2011, Republicans have made significant changes to natural resources laws, but they have failed to remove obstacles for frac sand mines, farms and food processors that want to dig more wells able to draw 100,000 gallons of water a day.
And big business hasn't been shy about its demands, noted in October:
A pretty stunning memo was sent last week by multiple trade groups and corporate special interests to the State Legislature in advance of today's hearing about the fast-tracked Wisconsin water giveaway bill I wrote about yesterday that puts groundwater and downstream users' access in private hands.
Here is the full text of the Vos request.
AG opinions do not carry the force of law, but they can influence legislation and public opinion - - and elected officials usually do not ask for these kinds of opinions unless they are confident of the outcome.
Remember - - the State Constitution says the waters of Wisconsin belong to everyone and the DNR is obligated to put the public's rights first.
What's the bottom line here? 

Citizen groups, dedicated volunteers and committed public interest lawyers will continue to fight the very government we all fund through our taxes until more environmentally-respectful politicians are voted in and the corporate valets are voted out.  

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