Monday, November 20, 2017

Walker, GOP officials worsen WI water, wildlife crises. Part one

I asked people in and near the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in early 2106 to assess the mood after several years of GOP Gov. Scott Walker's "chamber of commerce mentality" management directive

That post, here, is in the top-ten most downloaded items among 16,000 other items on this blog since it began in February, 2007.

Given the rush of recent Wisconsin legislation and state agency actions that roll back environmental oversight for wetlands, waterways, sand mines, large crop farming and animal feeding operations - - 
Manure runoff from Kewaunee County feedlot
 - - and soon for newly-permissible sulfide metal mines - - I've asked a large group of veteran Wisconsin environmental and water experts, conservation advocates, citizen activists, science and environmental writers, and others, to again comment on these important Wisconsin public health, safety, legal and policy issues.

Here is Part One; more tomorrow:
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From the inside - - "Desperation at all levels of the DNR." 

The past year has really shown me how the GOP is afraid of and caters to their wealthy donors - some of whom aren't even that generous. It was obvious before but this year has been brutal. DNR administrators support any development project regardless of environmental impacts. They are not interested in the environment or public health. If they can't maneuver around the law by bending it, the legislature simply changes the law. 

Rich Republican donors feel free to call up the DNR Secretary and Governor and demand that their projects go through. This puts pressure on legislators and DNR upper management. It has created an atmosphere of desperation at all levels of the DNR. I have witnessed administrators simply ignoring valid environmental and legal concerns from experienced, competent employees and I have seen administrators ignoring the process for determining environmental hazards when granting permits. It is true that DNR doesn't follow their own processes and skirts the law when possible. The Secretary's office seems to have a lot of power. And when that power is wielded by an incurious, pro-business person, bad things happen. So far, even in his short tenure, Dan Meyer has proven himself to be the same as Cathy Stepp. 

The only real check on unbridled donor power is the citizen groups and nonprofits who sue. Most of these groups are focused on local problems so it is difficult for the average person to know what damage is being done to other parts of the state. And let's face it, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is mostly unsympathetic to the average citizen. The DOJ under Brad Schimel is complicit in twisting the law.

There is a message I would like to send to Wisconsin: Make no mistake, Wisconsin is being sold off piece by piece to rich individuals who own the party currently in the governors office. And that party is more than willing to promote (for money) the destruction of the environment in order to stay in power. These rich donors (at least the ones I have met) aren't exceptional. They are ridiculously selfish people less worthy and no more intelligent than you. They are stealing your water, polluting your air and compromising your health and wealth. We deserve better. Get rid of the politicians who are beholden to and serve these losers. Replace them with people who take your well-being into consideration. You matter. - - DNR staffer
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Hold polluter politicians "accountable."

Governor Scott Walker’s administration and the current legislature continue to threaten Wisconsin’s natural resources through bad legislation, an anti-environment state budget, a toothless DNR, and reckless policies designed to dismantle Wisconsin’s renowned reputation for conservation – and let corporate interests run roughshod over the state.
Two of the most recent and egregious attacks include:
  • Sen. Tom Tiffany’s Industrial Acid Mining Bill, SB 395, which will open Wisconsin to America’s most toxic industry, sulfide mining. The bill is waiting to be signed by Walker, and will repeal the Prove It First mining law, paving the way for foreign mining interests to poison our waters, render local ecosystems lifeless, and damage our wildlife populations.
  • Foxconn, a $3 billion tax giveaway to a Taiwanese corporation that won’t have a positive effect for at least 20 years – if ever. Foxconn poses a direct threat to the Great Lakes, our state’s wetlands and rivers, and the quality and abundance of our drinking water. 
These and other recent moves by the Walker administration and the legislature have made it abundantly clear we’re living under a pro-polluter regime that is emboldened by its majority rule. However, those anti-conservation efforts are beginning to show cracks, as evidenced in polling. With an election just a year away, the pro-polluter lawmakers will be held accountable in their local communities for the adulteration of our land, air, and water. - -  Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters
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On the outside, "it's painful to watch..."

It’s painful to watch Scott Walker in campaign mode, especially if you are old enough to remember that Wisconsin once led the nation in progressive environmental protection, following the lead of Increase Lapham, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Gaylord Nelson, Lorrie Otto and dozens of others who loved our diverse, beautifully mysterious gift of nature.

In speaking and writing, they proved they were real humans of titanic character,   clear of thought, who expressed their passions for this place, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, leaving an imprint of their values permanently in place for their fellow citizens to emulate.

By contrast, the campaigning Walker is his own invention of a person he is not. The rehearsed smile, the little nod, more like a plastic bobble-head doll than a natural orator, the carefully composed empty sentences that ring with phrases like “keeping your hard-earned money” even when he is scheming to pass another tax cut for his billionaire backers.

Or to ban any public discussion of global warming. Or to further shrink the scientific staff of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Or to invite gold and copper sulfide mining, which always renders large tracts of land and waterway unusably toxic. Or to try to undermine the gloriously useful Wisconsin Idea. Or to destroy primitive wetlands, prime habitat for wildlife and rare plants. 

When the campaigner Walker speaks, your eyes look through the pathetic plastic invention standing before you on the stage to that group of shadowy figures behind him pulling the strings, the few billionaires from Wisconsin and the Koch brothers, the winking oligarchs who back this drama, his true masters for whom he has staged this sad, little one-act Punch and Judy show. - - Paul G. Hayes, former Science Reporter, The Milwaukee 
Journal.

From legislators, citizens get "no indication they were listened to." 

My theme this year was how hard so many people worked to let their legislators know how bills would harm their interests and communities with no indication that they were listened to. Some examples:

1.  Legislators keep sticking provisions in legislation for sand fracking which overturn local controls  - - stories here and here.

2. The Foxconn law which gives away public resources by exempting wetlands from regulation, circumvents the law and citizens' rights in [judicial] venue, and requires no Environmental Impact Statement. This is connected to the wetlands' deregulation bill, too; remember State Rep. Adam Jarchow said we should deregulate all wetlands to create an equal playing field with Foxconn. 

3. And the recently proposed bill to remove the air monitor in Sheboygan which signals frequent code orange bad air day alert when pollution travels up Lake Michigan.  This proposal would conveniently do away with any reason to better promote clean air and the method by which the public would know of dangers. This is very serious for people with asthma. Orange is 2nd highest level. The warnings tell people not to play sports outside and warns young and old to stay inside- - An advocate
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The Legislature is "reversing" the Wisconsin Constitution's "Public Trust Doctrine" mandating public water protection

After centuries of developing Wisconsin’s public trust doctrine through statutes and the courts, the Wisconsin Legislature has been reversing course.  To date, the courts have continued to serve their Constitutional role, in the founder’s scheme of separated powers, to interpret the law’s meaning and check the legislature.

The doctrine is grounded in the Wisconsin Constitution:

[T]he river Mississippi and the navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of the state as to the citizens of the United States, without any tax, impost or duty therefor. Art. IX, § 1 of the Wis. Constitution.

When Wisconsin became a state and became a trustee of all of the state’s navigable waters, the public trust doctrine protected public uses for commerce, navigation, and fishing.

 Starting in the early 1900s, Wisconsin courts developed the common law (that is judge made law) to reflect the importance of water in people’s lives, and recognized the public trust doctrine protected more non-consumptive uses of water, such as many forms of recreation.

Today that recreation, of course, is big business in Wisconsin and built on clean and abundant water.  The only Great Lakes state supreme court to address the issue, Michigan, recently held the protected public uses include walking on the beaches of the Great Lakes.  

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s opinion in Lake Beulah Management District v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, logically expanded the public trust doctrine by applying it to groundwater hydrologically-connected to navigable waters.

After this, the court ruled in Rock-Koshkonong Lake District v. Department of Natural Resources, and some commentators have misinterpreted that decision as the state’s highest court reversing their long embrace of the public trust doctrine. 

In fact, the court ruled on other grounds and their opining on the public trust doctrine was dicta (unnecessary for the decision and carrying no precedential weight). 

In recent years, however, public uses of the state’s water have been threatened by the Wisconsin legislature. Most recently, with the special legislation for Foxconn, exempting the company and any others that locate in the new tech zone from following a variety of state water laws designed to protect the public’s uses of water.  

However, if the courts perform the function the founders designed them to serve, they will continue to closely scrutinize the Legislature’s actions to determine whether the statutes they pass are constitutional and do not substantially impair the public interest in the state’s shared water wealth.

This was recently on display in Dane County when the Circuit Court in Clean Wisconsin, et al. v. DNR (Oct 11, 2017), when the court vacated the DNR’s approvals of several high capacity well permits for wells that would damage public trust waters. 

During the course of this litigation, the DNR indicated that the Wisconsin Supreme Court “got [it] wrong,” which the Circuit Court noted disapprovingly, since it is a serious misreading of the power of the agency to think its role is to say what the law is and ignore the Supreme Court’s binding decisions: that power resides in the courts alone.

Parroting Great Lakes Legal Foundation arguments the Wisconsin Supreme Court had previously soundly rejected, the DNR claimed the public trust doctrine did not apply to protecting water levels, the DNR could only consider impacts enumerated in the high capacity well statute, and the DNR could not consider cumulative impacts with high capacity wells.

The court held the DNR misinterpreted the law on all counts. Because the court is bound to follow the precedent of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it further held the public trust doctrine places an affirmative duty on the DNR to act to protect the state’s shared waters.  Now we need the political branches to heed the court’s interpretation and do their jobs as trustees. - - An advocate 
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The DNR is behaving like a developer's "private contractor."

Friends of the Black River Forest, (FBRF), has followed the DNR for four years as it has worked to smooth the regulatory path for the Kohler Company’s proposed golf course on the shore of Lake Michigan adjacent to Kohler Andrae State Park. 

The DNR has been tasked with justifying the damage to rare wetlands and the giveaway of our state park land to the Kohler Company by former Secretary Cathy Stepp. 

The DNR continues to use primarily Kohler provided information to write its Environmental Impact Statements. It has resorted to Skype weekly meetings on the Kohler project to avoid records’ requests. It has presented public information forums that mislead the public as to what work is being done for Kohler. The DNR has asked its oversight body - - Wisconsin Natural Resources Board - - to proceed with the process of amending the Kohler Andrae Master Plan so Kohler can use and impact up to 20 acres of our park land with the construction of a main entrance rotary, a road to the golf course and 24,000 sq ft. of maintenance buildings.

The DNR presented only Kohler’s preferred option to the Board. The DNR is presenting an application for Kohler to the National Park Service asking for land purchased with federal funds to be converted to private land for Kohler’s use. 

Again, the DNR presented only Kohler’s preferred plan rather than the option of Kohler using its own land. FBRF continues to challenge the DNR’s inaccurate and incomplete information. 

We challenge the DNR’s working as Kohler’s private contractor. FBRF has records showing Scott Walker’s office working with the Kohler Company to influence the annexation of State Park, Town of Wilson and Kohler lands to the City of Sheboygan so Kohler would not have to follow Wilson’s requirement of environmental impact evaluation. 

The DNR has become an arm of businesses and has not taken steps to protect our park land or our natural resources. We continue to gather supporters who will stand up to this Governor, legislators and DNR management to take back control of our resources. - - Friends of the Black River Forest
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The Legislature is attacking environmental protections in Wisconsin "at a stunning rate."

The majority in the Legislature is attacking environmental protections at a stunning rate.

Just last year, not content to pass sweeping legislation to try and limit the DNR's regulatory authority, the Legislature requested an attorney general's opinion to reinforce their edict that DNR could not impose conditions when permitting high capacity wells. Clean Wisconsin challenged nine well permits that were issued after the AG's opinion, for proposed wells that DNR's own scientists found would have significant impacts on nearby water bodies.

The DNR's attorney argued at the hearing that Wisconsin Supreme Court justices who unanimously held (in the Lake Beulah case) that the Public Trust Doctrine requires DNR to consider environmental impacts of high capacity wells "got it wrong."

The Dane County judge asked (rather incredulously) whether she was then supposed to ignore the Supreme Court? DNR's attorney said yes, and went on to state that DNR has no authority to regulate the waters of the state, only "access" to those waters. (He didn't say how DNR would manage "access" to rivers and lakes that had dried up due to over pumping of groundwater.)

Clean Wisconsin won in circuit court, but that won't be the end of it. - - An Advocate
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Like water, Wisconsin wildlife - - another public trust - - in "ongoing decline."

Like our Wisconsin water resources, our state’s wildlife—deer, birds, and predators alike—are held in trust for current and future generations of Wisconsin citizens. But, regrettably, the last few years has shown an ongoing decline in regulatory oversight over our wildlife, placing this invaluable resource in jeopardy and creating public safety and health risks to the public at large.

While the elimination of Wisconsin DNR’s Science Services Bureau speaks volumes in and of itself, the state’s de-prioritization of science bodes particularly poorly for wildlife management and complies with a harmful trend toward increased deregulation as highlighted below.

Wisconsin’s Deer Herd and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD): 

As well reported, it is evident that Walker’s DNR and Wisconsin’s legislative leadership have demonstrated a remarkable lack of will to combat the spread of CWD, in particular, the will to protect the state’s wild deer population in any manner at odds with business interests of the captive deer farm lobby. Rather than taking a proactive approach with respect to CWD-infested deer farms or following the lead of Michigan and Illinois’ wildlife agencies, Wisconsin’s DNR has been aptly characterized as a “mute, powerless observer” in the face of the CWD threat. Even regulation as basic as CWD monitoring has precipitously declined; compared to more than 40,000 deer tested in 2002, 6,129 deer were tested in the 2016 hunt - - resources, here and here and here

Reduced Regulation of Bear Baiting and Hounding: 

Owing to reduced DNR oversight and regulation of bear hunting--particularly bear hound training--the state’s northern landscape of national and state forests and public lands is overrun from July through October with untold numbers of hound hunters, many of whom are out-of-staters who migrate here for the summer from the South to train large packs of GPS-collared free roaming hounds to pursue bears and their cubs (for hours on end in the heat of summer).


Worse, with the elimination of the Class B training license requirement in 2015, the DNR has no way to know how many such hound-hunters or bear hounds are present on Wisconsin’s public lands or how they are conducting themselves. Similarly, the DNR concedes that it has no idea how many millions of gallons of bear bait—comprised of any number of foods, including fryer fat, marshmallows, donuts, even chocolate—are placed on public lands and near trails and campsites by bear hunters in advance of the hunting season. 


What people do know, when they attempt to access trail heads on public lands and parks, is that baiting stations, like mini-garbage piles, pose obvious safety concerns given their attraction to predators.  


Resources here and here.


Expanded Hunting and Trapping on Multi-Use State Lands and State Parks:  

Notwithstanding Wisconsin DNR’s promotion of state lands as “family & pet friendly,” the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s no denying that over the past several years, there has been a dramatic shift to expanding hunting on state lands. Currently 97-98% of DNR properties are open to hunting and trapping, added to the 5 million acres of huntable federal and county property. The controversial state law enacted in 2012, known as the Hunting Heritage Bill (Act 168), which opened State Parks to hunting and trapping, together with DNR’s authorization of year-round 24/7 (day and night) coyote hunting have created a state landscape in which very few places remain where Wisconsin families can enjoy nature on public lands without risk that they or their pets will be shot or injured in a trap. 

Case in point, Wisconsin DNR’s ongoing failure to prohibit nighttime coyote hunting consistent with public safety considerations and the agency’s bar on nighttime deer and bear hunting led to last year’s tragic events involving Madison area veterinarian, Deanna Clark, DVM, whose two dogs were shot and killed by a coyote hunter on a public multi-use nature reserve in Dane County. Dr. Clark had taken every possible safety precaution, outfitting her dogs with orange reflective vests and wearing a headlamp of her own. Yet her precautions were to no avail given the utter absence of restrictions for coyote hunting in Wisconsin, placing Wisconsin families and their pets in peril and unfairly limiting public access to state lands. 

Wisconsin Wolf Management:

To close with a worrisome look ahead, this past week a bill was circulated by Wisconsin legislators Senator Tiffany and Representative Jarchow, LRB 3737/1, which would make it illegal for Wisconsin law enforcement officials to enforce state or federal law relating to management of wolves in Wisconsin. Yes, this is an outright promotion of illegal poaching and sedition, so stay tuned on this one. - - An advocate
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Wisconsin's lost commons

After the GOP takeover of Wisconsin nearly seven years ago, our once-proudly progressive state has sacrificed its public trust obligations to ensure environmental protection, public education, transparent government, corruption-free elections and resource management for the common good. 

The takeover included the governor’s chair and both houses of the state legislature; they used that majority to gerrymander state electoral districts and ensure a Republican majority for a long time. 

And the State Supreme Court turned overwhelmingly conservative - - the new justices owing their elections to heavy spending by both in-and out-of-state business. 

The gloves were off.

Combined with drastic cuts in the Department of Natural Resources budget, staff and enforcement authority, state government began chipping away at the principles of the Public Trust, including the idea of a ‘commons.’

Big Business was prioritized over small business, environmental protections and individuals, Big Ag over family farms, private schools over public schools, development over wetlands and endangered species, bear and wolf hunting over established science, CAFOs over groundwater protection, and for-profit privatization over previously public services.

We were used to a Wisconsin Department of Transportation process that ignored public comments and dismissed legitimate concerns, but we expected better treatment and fair hearings at the Wisconsin DNR, where public input was sometimes actually heard and acted on. We expected to have continued citizen input on significant legislation. 


We were wrong.

Like the slowly boiling pot of water which kills the frog, changes were gradual and scattered over many venues: 

Citizen comments reduced from five minutes to three, decisions made before public input was considered, rules changed at the last minute, legislation drafted by lobbyists and special interests that would directly benefit from it, controversial legislation passed in the middle of the night, cameras and recording devices disallowed in legislative chambers (even as legislators were permitted to bring guns into the Capitol), rumors were passed about projects being “a done deal” or “this is going to happen” to discourage opposition, hearings where citizens were mocked or discredited by the legislators holding the hearing, protesters arrested. 

It became a government run amok, listening to and representing only itself, lobbyists and Big Dark Money to whom it is beholden.

What happened to Wisconsin’s Public Trust doctrine and the ideal of the commons? - - Laurie Longtine, citizen advocate for the commons
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Tomorrow, Part two.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ron Johnson surprise disclosure in tax bill debate

There's an amazing quote from US Sen. Ron Johnson, (R-WI), in the big weekend New York Times story about his opposition to the billionaire-friendly tax cut bills backed by the House or his party's Senate leaders.
Ron Johnson, official portrait, 112th Congress.jpg
No, he didn't come out against lop-sided favors like special tax breaks for private jet owners or foreign investors in US corporations. 

He's not raising the alarm over the billions of dollars in cuts the bills will automatically trigger in domestic spending, Social Security or Medicare, or to the ruinous elimination of deductions for costly nursing home care or similar expenses borne by parents of children with, say, autism or diabetes or MS,


Johnson is OK with all that - - what a business writer in the establishment publication and website Forbes.com calls fiscal insanity.

If it's enacted, the GOP tax cut now working its way through Congress will be the start of a decades-long economic policy disaster unlike any other that has occurred in American history.
So far, Johnson's only beef with the legislation is that it doesn't give bigger tax cuts to small businesses known in accountant jargon as "pass-throughs" like the one in Oshkosh his in-laws let him help run.

Here's the surprise quote from Johnson:

I just have in my heart a real affinity for these owner-operated pass-throughs,” he said.
He has a heart? This is news; look at the evidence to the contrary:
When Ron Johnson did not stand with abuse victims
Republican Senator calls health care, food and shelter a 'privilege'
To be a "yes," Ron Johnson demands certainty on Medicaid cuts
Johnson's disclosure will force critics to reassess why they think he behaves so deplorably towards people of lesser means and power.

It's not because Johnson has a pre-existing condition - - being without heart.

He's actually got Voluntarily-acquired Republican malevolence syndrome, also known as Paulaynryanism.





Friday, November 17, 2017

Walker's record unmasks faux fears of outside donations

I'm still laughing over Scott Walker's bogus fretting (read: 'Send Money!) about having to run for re-election against out-of-state money:
Walker says he fears "outside money."
You might as well have Trump worrying that Russians might help his next opponent.

Throw a few of Walker's words into Google, and the truth emerges.

A few examples:

*  Read about the thirteen out-of-state billionaires who wrote him big checks for the recall campaign. From 6/5/12:
Scott Walker's Big Money Backers Include 13 Out-Of-State Billionaires
If Scott Walker wins Tuesday's recall election, he'll have 14 of America's richest people to thank.
Wisconsin's Governor has out-raised opponent Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee, by almost 8 to one: $30.5 million to Barrett's $3.9 million. Of that huge haul, $1.68 million -- or, almost half Barrett's total -- came from 14 members of the Forbes billionaires list, all but one of whom live outside Wisconsin. 
*  More details about the out-of-state donors who dominate Walker's list. From 9/19/2014 :
Who's paying for the fight for Wisconsin Governor?
Big-money donors make up a hefty portion of Walker's top supporters, many of whom are from out of state. Burke, on the other hand, has had fewer big-money donors. In Wisconsin, individual donations are capped at $10,000. 
* And another accounting about his out-of-state donor strength. From 2/11/2015
To Understand Scott Walker's Strength, Look at His Donors
Mr. Walker’s list displays a cross section of stalwart Republican donors, from Texas energy company executives to the chief executives of Midwestern financial services companies. He received $1.9 million from California donors in 2012, and at least $1 million from donors in Florida, Texas, Illinois and New York that year, records from Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board show. 
 

Suit challenges WI DNR's capitulation to Big Dairy

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a pollution settlement
that major dairy interests were celebrating as a win over the DNR: 
The DNR has settled a power play lawsuit on terms favorable to the special interest that brought it - - Big Dairy - - which means there will be more muck flowing from big CAFOs already running amok.
The dairy interests claimed that the DNR was over-regulating them even though state auditors had found multiple problems with DNR enforcement actions, and the term "nitrate nightmare" has shown up in recent new reporting in La Crosse.
In case you don't think the settlement was on Big Dairy's terms, read no further than the headline on the industry's reaction:
Dairy Business Association wins victory in settlement of lawsuit with state regulators 
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Now today comes an important political policy consequence - - and a welcome one - - though I will say, as I've said before, that it's borderline criminal that citizens have spend their funds to fight the state government they already support through taxes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 17, 2017 



Citizen Groups Challenge DBA v. DNR Settlement
Settlement goes too far in limiting science-based decision making and pollution prevention

MILWAUKEE, WI – In a lawsuit filed today, citizen groups challenged the recent settlement of the Dairy Business Association v. Department of Natural Resources lawsuit. That settlement limits the state agency’s ability to protect public health and clean water without the ability or opportunity for the public to intervene and defend the public interest. 

Midwest Environmental Advocates represented the Clean Water Action Council, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation as proposed intervenors in the DBA v. DNR lawsuit. Friends of Central Sands also sought to intervene and are now clients in this challenge. However, DBA and DNR settled the lawsuit before the intervenors had a chance to become involved in the case.

To challenge the settlement, the groups filed a petition for judicial review and declaratory judgement action in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. 

Groups moved to intervene in the DBA v. DNR lawsuit because the suit challenged the authority of the DNR to require our state’s industrial-scale livestock operations to apply for and obtain water pollution permits. While that threat wasn’t ultimately a part of the settlement, groups remain concerned with how the settlement takes away the DNR’s authority to use science-based decision making in regulating contaminated runoff that comes from calf hutch areas and feed storage runoff. 

“It’s been the EPA’s position that the practices at the heart of this debate, including vegetated treatment areas and calf hutches, do produce contaminated runoff,” said Sarah Geers. “Most states have embraced better pollution controls, but this settlement makes it more difficult for the DNR to apply sound science to EPA-documented, known sources of pollution in our ground and surface waters. It’s another step in Wisconsin’s race to the bottom of stripping our state government’s ability to protect our water.”

“The level of influence of special interests over the basic functioning of DNR is threatening public health and our natural resources,” said George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former DNR Secretary. “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but this situation is extreme in circumventing the agency’s clear authority to protect our public waters.” 

Public scrutiny and citizen action is an essential tool in Wisconsin to hold industrial livestock operations and the government accountable for regulating and preventing water pollution and public health threats.

Citizens have shouldered the burden of taking the state to court over failures to limit ground and surface water pollution in challenges to facilities such as Richfield Dairy and Kinnard Farms. Citizens forced action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through filing a Safe Drinking Water Act petition. And a 2016 review by the Legislative Audit Bureau showed that CAFO pollution permit monitoring and enforcement was severely lagging.

CONTACT: 

Sarah Geers, Staff Attorney, (608)251-5047 x 5,sgeers@midwestadvocates.org

Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Director, (608)251-5047 x 1,sharbaugh@midwestadvocates.org

Midwest Environmental Advocates is a public interest organization that uses the power of the law to support communities fighting for environmental accountability. Learn more about the Midwest Environmental Advocates on the web at midwestadvocates.org, like MEA on Facebook or follow @MidwestAdvocate on Twitter.

The con on protecting WI waters extends past Foxconn

Federal and state GOP officials are playing a shell game with public waters - - pretending that Federal law will protect wetlands being deregulated in Wisconsin while working to block or end Federal water and clean air protections, and much of what remains on the books in Wisconsin, too. 

It's a classic case of promising one thing while doing the opposite that breaks the original promise, then saying there's nothing to see here.


Begin with the law Walker signed to subsidize Foxconn construction on several thousand acres of rural Racine County land. The new law predictably exempted the company from routine Wisconsin protections for wetlands, streams and even lake beds.


(Full Foxconn archive, here.)


Now look past the purely propagandistic assurances offered by Foxconn proponents that the company would be a good steward of the land, and pay attention to the back-up federal waterway protections Foxconn backers say will compensate for the environmental exemptions Foxconn just got.


And grasp that Wisconsin officials are working overtime to extend the Foxconn water and wetland exemptions to any business that wants them, to wit:


*  Brad Schimel, Wisconsin's pro-business GOP Attorney General, is leading the effort by numerous state attorneys general - - and note they just paid political and literal tribute to Trump at Mar-a-Lago - - to remove significant federal protections from waterways and wetlands nationwide.


*  Scott Pruitt, Trump's pro-polluter EPA administrator, is trying to tie-up the implementation of Obama-era wetland and waterway protections for at least two more years.


* And Wisconsin GOP legislators are out to further shrink Wisconsin wetland and waterway protections statewide, while citing as back-ups, with a straight face the very federal protections that Trump, Pruitt and Schimel are working hard to slow, then end:
Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature want to eliminate state protections for wetlands and air quality except when mandated by the federal government, saying they are costly for businesses.
About a million acres of wetlands could be left vulnerable and as many as 300 hazardous air pollutants could become unregulated under a pair of proposals circulating among lawmakers.
*  All this while the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has just added another 240 Wisconsin waterways to the federal impairment list.

The total number of Wisconsin waterways on the impaired list is now 1,300


*  And as goes Wisconsin waters, so, too, air quality which directly impacts the waters below, too: 
Reps. Jesse Kremer and Cody Horlacher and Sen. Duey Stroebel, all Republicans, introduced a bill on Sept. 20 that would wipe out all state air pollution rules that go beyond federal regulations. 
Note that WI AG Schimel has been organizing and suing to weaken federal air pollution standards, along with his focus on deregulating water, for years. Noted in detail, here:
*   Schimel beat Pruitt to the coal-industry-lobbying-hiring punch by tapping in 2014 a lobbyist for The American Coalition for Clean Coal as the AG's top aide, noted here.
  * Schimel later forced out Tom Dawson, the agency's leading environmental lawyer, created an in-house team in the Attorney General's office that specializes in suing the federal government and installed on the team Dawson's replacement, David Ross, an out-of-state pro-business attorney
*  It has been reported that Pruitt will draft Ross from the team as a senior administrator in the EPA's water office.
* Pruitt wants to kill on behalf of Big Coal President Obama's clean power plan, and Schimel is among the Attorneys General in court carrying the ball:  
“I am incredibly proud of our top-tier team at the Wisconsin Department of Justice that is helping to lead this crucial challenge against the federal government,” said Attorney General Brad Schimel.
What do you think will happen to the quality of Wisconsin air and waterways as this rush to deregulation powers on, and as wetlands that act as filters and flood protectors are filled by Foxconn in a flood-prone county, and if Foxconn exemptions are extended statewide with sulfide mining about to begin, and already-weakly-regulated, manure-spilling, groundwater-sucking CAFOs are allowed to expand, and if Pruitt wins the two-year waterways protections blockage he and Trump are seeking, and if Schimel's band of wetland fillers win the permanent rollback of federal waterway protections they hope the US Supreme Court will grant? 

The entire effort is right out of the GOP/Koch brothers playbook: Privatize public resources, remove legal, regulatory and scientific protections for public resources, shrink the public sector, cite its ineffectiveness and give big business a free hand.