Sunday, November 25, 2018

In climate crisis, ex-McDonald's mgr. oversees future of Great Lakes & Midwest ag

And look: No offense to McDonald's managers or workers. 

It's just that if there's a person assigned at the US Environmental Protection Agency to manage the health of the Great Lakes, protect clean air and water in six states and in most of the US portion of the five Great Lakes - - and the 20% of the planet's fresh surface water they hold - - and the planet had warmed into a red-hot

and worsening crisis - - especially for the Midwest - - you'd want that same EPA manager to have thought more highly of the large environmental protection staff she'd previously directed rather than the McDonald's workers she'd formerly supervised, right?

And had the scientific background to help confront an existential crisis while reporting to an equally or even more capable and visionary boss.

But such is not the case. Read on.

The EPA Great Lakes regional manager we're talking about here is Cathy Stepp and this is how the EPA describes her responsibilities:

Cathy Stepp serves as the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 5. Her responsibilities include overseeing environmental protection efforts in the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as 35 federally recognized tribal governments. One of her roles is manager of EPA Great Lakes National Program, in which she leads restoration and protection of the largest freshwater system in the world. Before joining Region 5, she was principal deputy regional administrator for EPA Region 7.
Ms. Stepp served as the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 2011 to 2017. 
Stepp was selected for the Wisconsin position by Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker in December, 2010, but not because she had experience in environmentalism as public policy, except to attack it (her words):
For example, people who go to work for the DNR's land, waste, and water bureaus tend to be anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, karner blue butterflies, etc...This is in their nature; their make-up and DNA. So, since they're unelected bureaucrats who have only their cubicle walls to bounce ideas off of, they tend to come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with.
Or had higher education credentials in science, or a college degree in anything, as one news report disclosed she lacked.

Rather, Walker appointed her because she had the "chamber of commerce mentality" he wanted atop the agency.

That the DNR would be taking big steps towards corporate agendas and away from public-interest policy and its long-standing scientific grounding would be a tremendous understatement.

I have compiled Walker's attack on the Wisconsin environment into a recent, 21-part series; Stepp was his eager cudgel.

And I have argued that Walker's defeat three weeks ago was, in part, a rejection of his rejection of climate change and the science which underscores the need to acknowledge and act on it.

But let's focus a bit on Stepp, because while Walker is on his way out, Stepp already has gotten two promotions by Trump's hand which have elevated her to responsibilities she has no business managing.

On her watch in Wisconsin, the number of waterways reported as impaired doubled.

Pollution inspections and enforcement actions plummeted. Nearly every DNR inspection failed to follow agency rules.

So, for example, you couldn't have been surprised when the agency in 2014 levied only a $464 fine against a farmer who spilled more than one million gallons of cow manure onto a field, into a wetland and down a river, because kid gloves for pollution had been signaled in the early months of Stepp's tenure. 

After only four months as Secretary, the agency's executive offices had handled as an internal matter "massive violations" by a septic tank hauler who'd spread his loads of human waste too close to rural wells, rather than hand the violations over to state law enforcement.

Turned out that the waste hauler had been a campaign contributor to a senior, Team Stepp DNR official when he'd been a GOP legislator prior to joining the agency's 'chamber of commerce mentality' management team.

Stepp and Walker focused on re-branding the agency as a permitting shop to promote business.

They cut the DNR staff, promoted a mountain-top removal scheme to dig a massive open pit iron ore mine in Northwest Wisconsin which missed out accessing the eased mining law and newly-restricted public participation rules Walker had backed principally because the mining site turned out to be too saturated with wetlands.

Just as scientists, tribal officials and others had argued with the facts on their side.

Walker fired DNR scientists alleged to have been working on climate change


Stepp promoted and implemented the sale of 10,000 acres of state land.

Even greenlit the proposed transfer of state park land to help a major Walker donor's planned construction of a high-end golf complex on an adjoining, heavily-wooded, rare dune-wetlands-and-habitat-rich 247-acre nature preserve along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

And during his ill-fated run for the presidency in 2015, Walker had proposed 'reforming' the EPA out of existence as we'd known it, while Stepp continued to drag her agency's feet correcting 75 clean water compliance failures the EPA has catalogued for Walker and the DNR four year earlier.
In 2011, the EPA put the state DNR on notice that its waste water pollution permit program was riddled with 75 “apparent omissions and deviations” from federal law. The list of deficiencies included both long-standing practices and those initiated by Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature. 
“Wisconsin has proposed changes or provided clarifications to address approximately 40 of the 75 issues,” EPA Chicago office spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said in an email Monday.
In late 2016, the EPA in the person of a regional administration Stepp would soon replace was back in Wisconsin taking testimony about clean water compliance failures persisting under the Walker-Stepp oversight - - and not long before Stepp would leave to join the EPA she'd been ignoring.
A packed room of approximately 200 Wisconsinites gathered for a listening session with Environmental Protection Agency leaders on November 15, at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. The crowd welcomed EPA Region 5 Administrator, Robert Kaplan, as well as EPA Water Division leadership.
Attendees represented all of Wisconsin, from northern Bayfield County to Kewaunee County to Madison and Milwaukee in the south. The listening session focused broadly on water quality and quantity issues, and as a result EPA staff heard concerns ranging from lead pipes to water and health impacts of the pesticide Glyphosate. Water quality impacts from industries such as large-scale agricultural and frac sand mines were among the most common topics presented to Regional Administrator Kaplan.
So where was clean air and water oversight headed? Great Lakes preservation? Wetlands protections? Respect for climate science? Public resources over private gain?

You get the picture. In fact, Stepp had explained why she cared so little for clean and water:

Remember Wisconsin's signature tourism, recreation, fishing and beverage industries?
Someone better pass the word to Cathy Stepp, our DNR Secretary, who recently said:
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, a former homebuilder, recalled at one agency listening session how an employee told her that “clean air and clean water, that those were our customers. 
And I said, ‘Well, the last time I checked, they don’t pay taxes and they don’t sign our paychecks.’ “ 
Which brings us to McDonald's, which we know about in relation to Stepp and her history and her thinking because she mentioned her preference for her former staff there as opposed to the unionized, Earth Day-conscious public employees she whined about inheriting when she took over the DNR, as I noted in this July, 2016 blog post:

WI DNR boss Stepp wishes staff were like burger flippers

[Updated] This blog has been tracking the forced decline of the once-proud, no-longer-science-based Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as directed by Scott Walker's hand-picked team of "chamber of commerce" bots. 
That group of private-sector bellhops is led by ex-developer, Halloween treats organizer and openly hostile DNR ranter Cathy Stepp.
There was even a management firm video posted on YouTube of Stepp's hostility - -  since taken down - - which captured her dismissal of staffers she griped that she couldn't easily fire - - employees too tied, she'd said, into an Earth Day mentality and who refused to share her appreciation for the "inspired" Scott Walker.

So add this revealing excuse-making Stepp stepped in to before the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - the public oversight board which Walker with her approval unsuccessfully tried to budgetary turn into a mere advisory body - - as reported in an interview with The Wisconsin State Journal: 
Stepp recalled her days as a McDonald’s restaurant manager as she talked about how state employment rules have hobbled the DNR. Stepp said she could quickly mobilize her fast-food employees when a busload of customers arrived unexpectedly, but the DNR can’t react that nimbly to retirements.
A few months later, Donald Trump was campaigning for President, and Stepp decided to offer music to his ears at his Waukesha, Wisconsin rally. 

From a summary post about Stepp's history I posted later, here's how a Madison Capital Times reporter tweeted about Stepp's remarks:

@jessieopie"This is our time, ladies." — WI DNR Sec. Cathy Stepp at @realDonaldTrump rally in Waukesha
WI DNR Sec. Cathy Stepp at Trump rally asks women if they're tired of being lectured to by media, liberal groups to vote for Clinton. 
Not long thereafter, Stepp was off to the #2 position in the Trump/Scott Pruitt EPA office in Kansas City - - though she was apparently among the few people with any connection to the environment who claimed to be unaware that Trump had said climate change was a hoax - -  and a few months later, Trump moved her to the EPA office in Chicago.

No doubt Trump was also impressed with her defense last year of removing  climate change materials from the DNR website when she was the Secretary:
DNR secretary Cathy Stepp says it doesn't matter what she thinks about the cause of climate change because the department doesn't concern itself with that. 
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, DNR secretary Cathy Stepp said she believes there is substantial scientific disagreement on the cause of climate change, and that it “doesn’t matter” if her view contradicts the vast majority of scientists in that field.
Whether she thought climate change was a hoax is unclear, but we know that when she had the chance to assign DNR staff to Team Walker's effort to block an Obama-era clean air initiative, she assigned a veteran of several business associations which had engaged in years of objections to a variety of environmental programs.

And we also know she had so disliked like the way climate change had been described on a DNR website that she had the information scrubbed off in late 2016:
Gone are references to known "human activities" contributing to a warming planet, warming's contributions to changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns, extreme weather events, drought, species and economic losses as a result among other truths whitewashed off this official, taxpayer-financed website.
Chillingly, this entire line - - with its positive message and a call to action - - is now deleted:
The good news is that we can all work to slow climate change and lessen its effects.
So here we are with a President who thinks leaf-raking would prevent super wildfires and who threw paper towels to Puerto Ricans devastated by a Category 5 hurricane.

And who thinks climate change might be reversible, further stumbling over the science that buttresses the climate change reality he'd said was a hoax.

And who has put an anti-science, anti-government climate change dismisser in charge of managing the Great Lakes, and much of the nation's bread basket, as a warming planet is producing flood-and-drought perils that science projects will escalate.

Wisconsin, for example, has had repetitive, record-setting floods in the last few years. Surely she heard about them in her downtown Chicago office.

Yet I don't see either Trump or Stepp changing their approach despite credible polling which shows Americans want action, and now:

Nearly 8 in 10 believe that officials at every level of government bear some responsibility to rein in climate change, according to a new poll from Yale UniversityGeorge Mason University and Climate Nexus, a nonprofit working to improve public understanding of climate change. [Disclosure: Climate Nexus and Nexus Media are both sponsored projects of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.] 
“Public opinion research shows that Americans are growing increasingly worried about global warming,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.  
“What is interesting about this poll is that Americans are looking to new leaders to rise to the challenge. The federal government is no longer offering solutions. Americans want their governors, mayors and the business community to pick up the torch.” 
The poll further finds that nearly 74 percent of Americans are “somewhat” or “very” worried about climate change, a result that is broadly consistent with research from Quinnipiac UniversitySt. Leo University and Gallup — each of which found that worry about climate change has reached an all-time high in the last two years.
But I'll tell you this: when fast-food chains see public opinion changing, they hire new spokespeople, rebuild their stores, add healthier options, boost some wages and do what ever is needed to stay alive.


Anonymous said...

I wonder why we never hear about Dan Meyer, Stepp's successor. Does he do anything?

Anonymous said...

Propaganda Alert: As Rowen has posted after the election, pundits that shamelessly promoted Scott Walker's failures are now setting-up Tony Evers for blame for every one of Scott Walker's failures.

Walker's BFF Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as always, leads the echo-chamber. Remember, without mass media, there are no pundits, so when the political bias is one sided and stretches across headlines and talking-points-as-news, it really isn't about 5he individual op-ed writers.

The propaganda began immediately after the election when MJS led the mighty Wurlitzer in declaring that the state had a $2 BILLION dollar shortfall. No mention of Walker's role in this fiasco was mentioned. Instead, it was all about Tony Evers and how he was going to fail us in cleaning up this massive Walker mess.

Today, MJS reaches a new low, finally publishing stories that highlight the human side of Walker's massive failure to support small-and-midsized farms -- his base of core supporters:

Wisconsin Dairy Farms Barely Hanging On With No End in Sight

Like the multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, this disinformation is building a platform for the usual right-wing hacks at MJS and across the state to blame Tony Evers for the plight of dairy farmers. This despite the fact that Scott Walker demonstrated his complicity with and ignorance of the factors creating an environment that is destroying small businesses like family farms.

There is nothing Evers can do to bring the thousands of displaced farmers back into the business, nor can he prevent the tidal wave of failing farms in the foreseable future. But facts mean nothing to Walker's enablers, the purpose of these reports is to blame Tony Evers for what GOP created.

Dairy farmers had opportunities to elect a governor and representatives that supported local agriculture. Instead, they consistently voted for rightwing extremists that continue to launch economic warfare against local businesses and workers.

Evers is in a tough situation, as the gerrymandered GOP legislature will obstruct any-and-everything. The farmers this article is about deserve no breaks nor relief. We will not miss their production in any way - they were never that important, which is why Walker pandered to them and then enacted policies that will put most small farms out of business.

Maybe when they join the rest of us working Americans, they will stop voting for GOP's corporate agenda.