Internal email suggests WI DNR eroding key scientific, regulatory credibility 08.21.13

Read this article online

With the controversial GTAC open-pit iron mine in the early stage of state review, it is unsettling to read an all-staff email sent Monday from DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp revealing that the work of scientific and enforcement DNR specialists has been put more directly under the control of the DNR's politically-appointed leadership.

The full text of the emaii is here.

The DNR under Gov. Walker and his hand-picked, pro-business senior team has acknowledged they are philosophically inclined to limit enforcement actions referred for prosecutions.

That appeared to be the case when a business with political connections to a senior DNR official got relatively light treatment after spreading excessive amounts of human septic tank waste on farm fields near residential wells.

An attitude on display also when Stepp stepped out of her honest-broker/regulator role to advocate for legislation enabling the GTAC mine.

And this political analysis does not free Democrats from some of the resposibility for the DNR's lurch towards political and special-interest management.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, went back on a pledge to restore more independence and authenticity to the agency's direction by reassigning the power to hire the agency Secretary to the more-autonomous Natural Resources Board, and I was critical of Doyle that lost opportunity and his reversal.

So this is a matter beyond partisan politics, though Walker is buttoning down his control over multiple state agencies with environmental responsibilities - - note this announcement today that presumably puts the PSC's water division in the hands of a Walker legislative ally.

The anti-big government conservatives sure do sing a different tune when big government jobs are there for the taking.

But back to the DNR: the agency has said it is hiring more inspectors to enforce state environmental law - - though remember that the DNR has defauled decision-making about scores of new frac sand mines to local governments, wetlands rules have been weakened by this administration, and shore line development rules along with ground water protections are about to get the same, pro-business/big-user 'reform' - - so Stepp's taking administrative control of agency's science and enforcement specialists does little to assure the public that  DNR permit reviews will be guided by the public interest.