Saturday, October 27, 2018

Walker's 8-year attack on Wisconsin's environment. Part 18. The 33 times science was dissed, dismissed.

This is the 18th installment of a 21-part series on Walker's war on the Wisconsin environment. The series will conclude before the Nov. 6 election.

When Walker announced the DNR on his watch would be run with "a chamber of commerce mentality," he meant with less science, too.

And as documented below in an exhausting but not exhaustive list - - more suggestions are welcome in the comments section - - that attitude has moved across the Legislature and state government more broadly, as Walker, his DNR or his allies:

*  Scrubbed climate science, information and relevant links off the DNR's key climate webpage, first disclosed by this blog in late 2016.

Presaged by wholesale earlier deletions from DNR webpages of multiple links to climate change and global warming studies and outside materials.

*  Merged and downgraded the DNR's Science Bureau to better serve business. Then agency Secretary Cathy Stepp's own words in her memo.
Science Services – The Department’s highest priority business decisions must be informed by sound and up-to-date science. While we are proud of the efforts that the science branch of the organization has produced to date, the Leadership Team believes our Science Services program must be better positioned in the agency to ensure alignment of effort and funding to priorities. 
To accomplish this, effective immediately, the Bureau of Science Services will become a part of the Office of Business Support and Sustainability and report directly to the Office’s Director. 
* And those cuts, along with other downgrades, have led to shortages and gaps in scientific information, insiders say:
A former DNR staffer said: 
The most alarming issue to me is the great waste of decades of sound science, compiled overtime in on-going studies and data collection. WI had more information about our natural landscape than most states. Abolishing science services put an end to decades long studies vital to maintaining and recovering rare and endangered plants and animals as well as understanding natural communities as information on resilience for climate change. 
And a current employe on personal time echoed many of the lobbyists and former staffers' observations:
Under Walker and Stepp, science is not a priority. Scientific knowledge is ever-changing but in Wisconsin our staff are being left behind. We no longer have a statistician to help interpret data, a library to provide journals or books, or researchers that monitor fish counts, wildlife health, air quality, water quality and etc….employee scientific knowledge and data specific to WI is stagnant...we cannot do the best job possible for our state. 
The DNR is currently run by people who understand public relations spin but not the complexity of the natural resources they are responsible for...Communications staff, generally not trained specifically in resource communication, answer questions with talking points...usually developed by upper management - political appointees - and legal staff. The information provided is biased and superficial.
*  Made those cuts to the DNR science staff in part at the behest of the Legislature's lead mining ally who didn't like what DNR science DNR scientists might have been studying.

*  Promoted with the active support of DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, and also with secret campaign financing, 35 years of mountain top/open-pit mining in the pristine Penokee Hills and Bad River watershed, despite evidence of asbestos-like fibers in waste rock, harm to wild rice estuaries, multiple private wells and community water systems, and regional air quality.

*  Dragged its feet despite known, measured and confirmed drinking water contamination in wide swaths of rural NE Wisconsin and the Central Sands area to the west


* Signed separate legislation into law ending a clean water enabling 30-year ban on toxifying sulfide mining in the state.


* Lowered the standards for what scientifically constitutes a waterway of special interest that should be protected from construction or intrusion.


* Failed to abide by its own follow-up rules after pollution inspections 94% of the time.


* Repeatedly ignored scientific approaches to the control of deer chronic wasting disease, now an epidemic effecting the herd in most Wisconsin counties. 

*  With no scientific underpinning, the Legislature passed and Walker signed bills to sell 10,000 acres of state land 'managed' by the DNR, and to remove state protections from 100,000 acres of flood-mitigating, surface-water cleansing wetlands.


* Granted through actions of the DNR and its oversight board preliminary approvals to a Walker donor the right to build a golf course in a nature preserve that DNR staff have said will damage dunes, wetlands, timber stands and wildlife habitat, and which will also require transfer to the project of state parkland acreage.


* Eliminated an existing early warning notification system which alerted the public to the known buildup of unhealthy air conditions.


* Discouraged recycling, a known contributor to cleaner land and water.


* Supported eased shoreline construction and dredging restrictions designed to protect water quality.


* Intentionally rolled back rules designed to lessen phosphorous discharges and thus contamination of Wisconsin waterways, leading directly to an increase in waterways reported to the US EPA as 'impaired.'

The Little Plover River runs dry with so many large ag operations drawing groundwater nearby. During Walker's tenure, impaired waterways in Wisconsin have doubled, according to DNR data routinely supplied to the US EPA.
* Eased or shelved inspections of an expanding number of large animal feeding operations (CAFOs), tolerated manure runoff that led to 'brown water events' and continually put water science on the back burner.

* Intend to move DNR CAFO inspectors and perhaps water quality experts away from the DNR to the more industry-friendly Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection, which also coordinates and funds ag, dairy and other commercial development domestically and worldwide.


* Approved new fees and charges for solar power installations.


* Proposed ending funding for a UW biofuels program and more than a dozen other environmental and scientific activities throughout the UW system. Only legislative intervention prevented implementation, but the US system suffered tens of millions of dollars in broad budget cuts anyway.


*  Suspended an ongoing DNR review of a wetland-filling permit so a campaign donor could more quickly fill the wetland for a development.


* Obstructed wind power development to serve his real estate friends.


* Approved the expansion of a tar sands pipeline running the north-south length of the state with only cursory and minimal permitting reviews, despite the pipeline operator's calamitous in-state and regional environmental record.


* Legislatively urged Trump's EPA to move an air pollution monitor because it was recording too much pollution.


*  Granted the Foxconn project unique exemptions from standard, science-based environmental impact analyses, and gave the company the right to fill wetlands, build on lake beds and re-route streams, despite years of science and law to the contrary. More about Foxconn later in this series.


* Convinced Trump's EPA to apply weaker air quality standards over heavily populated portions of SE Wisconsin.


* Used the DNR to quickly approve huge dirty air emissions for the Foxconn project.


*
 Used the DNR to quickly approve a controversial diversion of water from Lake Michigan for the Foxconn project without known what proprietary chemical compounds or residues would be in the wastewater that the project would return to the lake.


* Granted a permit for a sand mining operation to carry out a massive wetland filling which former DNR experts said should not be permitted.


* Though hybrid and electric vehicles reduce dirty air emissions, Walker's DOT proposed and he signed into law annual fee increases on those vehicles.


*  Ensured that Wisconsin's short-lived wolf hunting program which ignored science-based restrictions would continue with few limitations by removing wolf hunting opponents from the state's wolf advisory committee.

Update: Oct, 28th addendum. Walker and the state joined two separate lawsuits to block Obama administration's science-and-public health clean air initiatives, here and here.Even Trump's EPA, dedicated to nullifying the Obama era clean air plans, acknowledged they would save thousands of lives annually.

Part 17 of this series was published October 27th.




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