Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WI DNR Drinking Water/Groundwater chief confirms retirement

Jill Jonas, a longtime Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staffer and the Director of the Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, confirmed to me by email today that she is retiring on June 6th.

I had asked Jonas "if your retirement is at all early in any sense, related to any policy or institutional differences with the agency or administration, or is as you had planned it as your personal decision," and she replied that it was "my personal decision."

The Bureau is responsible for a number of high-profile matters, including safe drinking water - - a current hot topic - - concentrated animal feeding operations, high-capacity wells and the Great Lakes Compact, among others, according to a WI DNR website.

Eric Ebersberger, a senior DNR staffer who had managed the DNR's review of Waukesha's application for a diversion of Great Lakes water under the terms of the Great Lakes Compact notified the DNR last Friday that May 27th would be his last day.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lead WI DNR staffer on Waukesha diversion has resigned

Eric Ebersberger, Deputy Division Administrator of the Environmental Management Division of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, confirmed to me by email this afternoon that he had submitted his resignation from the agency:
My last day as Deputy Division Administrator will be 5/27; but I’ll continue with the Waukesha project through June.
I'd begun hearing about this earlier today, had posted this item but wanted confirmation before I used Ebersberger's name:
Inquiries to WI DNR about another senior staff resignation
He'd given his notice last Friday.

Ebersberger is a widely-respected career state employee and popular staffer within DNR; some of his biographical information appeared in a posting on this blog a year ago when he was last promoted. 

Inquiries to WI DNR about another senior staff resignation

Waiting for confirmation from DNR Secretary Stepp.

Major staff/environmental policy implications.

Stay tuned.

Walker's interest in debt

Why Walker's WI job losses are Trumpian

Because they're YUGE:
The state lost 11,500 private-sector jobs in April, 0.5 percent of the workforce, according to preliminary, seasonally adjusted estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
If the figures stand up to revisions, it will be the state's biggest monthly jobs drop since July 2009, during the Great Recession.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Wisconsin is corporate heaven; less so for the less-powerful

[Updated from 1:03 p.m Saturday, May 21, 2016] No one who saw the film "Field of Dreams" will forget that Kevin Costner says "It's Iowa" when asked by the ghost of his father if the lush, surrounding corn field is heaven.

I fully expect a Wisconsin trade association TV ad crew to rip off that conceit, ask a dairy operator with an industrial-scale milking herd the same question and get back the scripted and so-true response "this is heaven and Wisconsin." 

Why? Because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - backed up by another corporate captive, the Wisconsin Attorney General - - has decided it doesn't have to guarantee drinking water quality near animal feeding operations whose thousands of animals may legally drain the groundwater away without regard for the cumulative impact on downstream waterways and multiple users' needs. 

Look to Walker and the GOP Legislators who never tire of carrying the corporate sector's water successfully lock down their out-in-the-open water resource privatization agenda later in 2016.
Not to mention that factory and farm owners have been basically relieved of paying Wisconsin state income taxes while manufacturing equipment in the state has long been exempted from taxation:
A measure tucked into Gov. Walker’s 2011 budget that effectively eliminated state income taxes on owners of factories and farms in Wisconsin is costing way more than predicted and contributing mightily to the current budget shortfalls.  
The Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit was hailed at the time as a job-creating effort that would let businesses invest the savings in new hires and equipment.  
But recent figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show the credit will cost the state at least $275 million in additional lost tax collections over the next biennium, or more than double what was originally estimated….  
After the credit was included in the budget and signed by Gov. Walker, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce called it the "most exemplary public policy initiative in support of manufacturing in more than 35 years.” 
With the full windfall now coming to fruition:
Wisconsin’s sweeping tax credit that shields manufacturers and farmers from paying state income tax hits its apex this tax year following a three-year implementation plan of progressive rate hikes.
And that dreamy Wisconsin TV ad could be changed to show a power plant executive in front of the smokestack saying heavenly things about Wisconsin, since Walker and the Attorney General are fighting proposed federal clean air rules, and Walker appointees to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission have watered-down the Commission's public service mission by approving huge increases in rate-payers mandatory monthly charges (a poke in the eye also to solar customers) and awarding monopoly operators fat, 10% guaranteed profit margins.
Smoke stacks from a factory. 
Some of the big health-care institutions in the state are hauling in the big bucks, too, as it was recently reported that many medical services in Wisconsin cost 81% above the national average. My favorite line in this story:
A representative from the Wisconsin Hospital Association was not immediately available for comment.
And don't forget that faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University separately have published data showing that to the extent there is job growth in Wisconsin the gain is in low-wage employment.

Meaning simply that if you own a business in Wisconsin, you can pay your employees peanuts.

A reality cemented by Walker's refusal to allow any increase in the rock-bottom minimum wage level of $7.25 an hour - - he's called the concept of a guaranteed minimum wage "lame" - - and by wage-depressing legislation he signed rolling back prevailing, family-supporting pay levels on public works projects, and across the board through a union-and-collective bargaining 'right-to-work' law he also signed and which, despite a lower court injunction, is likely to be upheld by the current Wisconsin Supreme Court whose elected conservative majority is especially beholden to major trade associations.

As you process the news that the conservative majority on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justices today validated Wrong-Way Walker's rollbacks of voting and collective bargaining rights - - and that several of the same Justices' campaigns were significantly funded by the WMC and other corporate special interests which also heavily back Walker - - do not forget that these same Justices let the WMC and the Realtors write for the Court a new ethics rule defining - - basically, never - - when recusals were in order by Judges and Justices to reduce conflicts-of-interest and enhance the appearance of fairness. 
Yes, you read that right.
And let's not forget that Walker created and chaired a quasi-public agency that threw millions of dollars in business loans and grants to favored recipients without adequate tracking and oversight - - and WEDC is still mired in scandal without helping Walker created more than 60% of the 250,000 new private-sector jobs he pledged to achieve in his first term - - but has created work for key industry and trade association insiders by naming them to top state government policy-making and senior administration positions, including:

*  The leadership team at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is still run by former home-builder Cathy Stepp. Atty. Matt Moroney, Stepp's long-time Deputy Secretary, is now a Walker staff policy aide; Before his state government work, Monroneyran the Metropolitan Builders Association of Southeast Wisconsin.

*  Pat Stevens, the current DNR bureau chief of air management, waste and some additional duties, had served with the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association. Some details about those who fulfilled Walker's pledge to install a "chamber of commerce mentality" atop the DNR is here.

*  Bob Seitz, a lobbyist for both Americans for Prosperity - - a Koch brothers advocacy group - - and GTac, the mining company which nearly succeeded through a company-influenced bill and law to carry out 35 years of open pit iron ore mining in the water rich Bad River watershed near key Native American rice-growing and other land - - is now the Executive Assistant to the chair of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

No wonder Charlie Pierce always throws into his Esquire pieces this description of Walker's takedown of Wisconsin:
Governor Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin...
* GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel hired in 2014 as his top aide a lobbyist who was representing Wal-Mart and a dozen additional businesses and trade associations.

In other words, the Walkerites have used law and policy and political power in Wisconsin - - this GOP/corporate control has been an under-covered, carefully crafted take-over operation - - to tilt benefits and access in a heavenly way towards big business and the executives who own them.

Friday, May 20, 2016

News that WI is adding low-wage jobs is old news

It's common knowledge that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker failed to fulfill his pledge to create 250,000 new private-sector jobs in one term.

And while I appreciate the recent reporting that jobs being added in Wisconsin are predominately low-wage:

Marquette University Economist Weighs In On Walker's Economic Optimism 
Chowdhury Says Walker Administration Is Creating Jobs But They're Low-Skill, Low-Wage Ones
I remember reading basically the same thing in a 2014 paper by UWM economics professor Marc Levine:
During the 2007-2010 recession employment in Wisconsin declined across all wage levels, although the losses were heavily concentrated in occupations paying “middle wages” (90 percent of the 2007-2010 job losses in Wisconsin were in middle-wage occupations). Finally, between 2010-2013, employment continued to decline in both middle and high wage occupations in Wisconsin; all of the net job growth between 2010-2013 occurred in low wage occupations. More troubling still: over 60 percent of the 2010-2013 growth of employment in low-wage occupations in Wisconsin occurred in very low-wage occupations – those with median hourly wages below $10.00 (in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars).
So the experts in Madison and Milwaukee agree.

No doubt this Walker Mission Accomplished trend will continue because Walker has refused to consider raising the $7.25 minimum wage - - his definition of a living wage - - and also signed 'right-to-work' legislation and a so-called prevailing wage law (currently blocked by a judge) that together will depress wages in the public and private sectors.

Or as he calls it, 'moving in the right direction,' or "the comeback."'

More Madison job losses = Walker Mission Accomplished

[Updated] Faculty leaving the UW-Madison.

And now a big layoff at the former Anchor Bank, charmingly and ironically now called Old National, because since Walker's January, 2011 swearing-in, what's an older story in and around the State Capitol than that Walker-250,000 new jobs promise that is still about 40% unfulfilled.

In WalkerWorld, any move, relocation and departure from the capital city, whether from the meat cutters union at Oscar Mayer, or banking positions or any state agency, UW program or classroom is considered a win by Walker and the GOP that will pay off in every voter-photo-ID-rigged election on the horizon.

Ditto for Team Walker's hostility to heavily-Democratic Milwaukee, too, where Walker's resistance to raising the minimum wage, or enforcement of cuts to food stamps, or disinterest in transit, or new deep cuts to UW-Milwaukee programs and staff are all designed to encourage out-migration and discourage newcomers from putting down roots.

Look: Walker and his city-corroding, union-busting, Madison-bashing, tenure-hating Legislative and special-interest friends would close down the flagship campus, disperse its liberal faculty - - after flat-out lying about them - - keep the student body debt-ridden through state inaction and drive every Democratic-leaning-or-voting resident far away if they could.

I've written about Walker's political strategy to displace certain people and groups from Wisconsin:

Again, "good riddance" is in the air, and in state policy, too, like a new official motto or state slogan.  It used to be "We like it here." Now it's more along the lines of, "We'd like some of you, a lot of you, to leave."
His goal is to flip the state from purple to red, and he's proving me right everyday: 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Despite enforcement disregard, WI DNR assigned diversion oversight

Yesterday I called out a Great Lakes water advisory group for recommending - - their findings, their website - - the precedent-setting diversion of Lake Michigan water to the City of Waukesha and its waste water return flow plan.

I noted that the advisory group is recommending oversight and implementation responsibilities roles for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - the same DNR that has a documented, weak track record during the Walker years of ineffective pollution controls, disregarded environmental issues statewide, and laissez-faire permit inspection and enforcement actions
for which the DNR's ex-developer Secretary and Walker appointee says she has no apologies.

The diversion advisory group - - see, for example, item F, p. 11 in its findings - - specifies the DNR "should use all of its available legal authority…" as its guide.

C'mon: "All of its its available legal authority." Seriously? 

The Great Lakes advisory body should know:

*  Since 2011, the Wisconsin DNR has failed spectacularly to use all its its available and assigned legal authority under the US Clean Water Act to guarantee clean water to the people of Wisconsin.

*  In fact, the DNR and the state were notified by the US Environmental Protection Agency in a jaw-dropping letter - - full text, long file - - and that Wisconsin had seventy-five clean water act compliance deficiencies which demanded immediate corrective action.

*  And the Walker administration and the DNR have not corrected those seventy-five deficiencies.

That failure has led Wisconsin citizens to formally petition the EPA - - at their own expense through the public interest attorneys at Midwest Environmental Advocates - - to force the DNR to do its job and follow the law to guarantee clean water in Wisconsin.

Notably, several dozen former DNR officials have signed on to the petition: this is no small effort, its import is significant and should be carefully studied by the eight Great Lakes governors who will soon make the final decision on the diversion and return flow plan as recommended by the advisory group.

Here are more details from MEA about the Wisconsin DNR's performance which the Great Lakes advisory group seems to have overlooked:

Petition to EPA: Wisconsin Fails to Comply with Clean Water Act

Oct 20, 2015
Today, on behalf of 16 Petitioners from across the state of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a Petition for Corrective Action with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to request action by both federal and state agencies to bring Wisconsin back into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Wisconsin citizens petitioning the EPA have long-standing water problems from poor implementation and enforcement of the landmark federal law.
“Today, Petitioners are exercising a right granted by federal law to ask the EPA to require our state Department of Natural Resources to issue water pollution permits in compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Staff Attorney Tressie Kamp. “If our DNR and state legislators do not take timely action, the Petition asks that the EPA take back the DNR’s power to issue permits to industries that discharge pollutants into Wisconsin’s waters.”
In 2011, the EPA sent a letter to the DNR outlining 75 points where the state government was out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act through a lack of clear or effective implementation, enforcement or proper legal authority for the state. Since then, changes in the agency’s rulemaking process, staffing and authority within the agency’s water pollution permitting program, and circumvention of court-ordered pollution controls, in addition to cuts in the agency’s budget and science staff, have all culminated in this urgent, statewide call for action. The Petition requests that the EPA works with the DNR to establish enforceable timelines for compliance.
“The Petition for Corrective Action is important and justified because it’s been over four years—and in some instances, much longer—since the EPA put our DNR on notice that Wisconsin does not issue water pollution permits in full compliance with the federal laws that protect clean water all over our country,” said Kamp.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Same Wisconsin agency enabling polluters given water diversion oversight role

The polluters
Smoke stacks from a factory.
keep winning and winning and the citizens keep losing and losing
because the public-sector haters in office and their corporate GOP-based signal-callers with rich campaign donations at the ready are running all three branches of Wisconsin government.

I've lost count of the number of times on this blog I've noted the intentionally-weakened pollution enforcement actions by Scott Walker's "chamber of commerce mentality" Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - and yet here we have fresh data about the precipitous enforcement decline noted on the same day that representatives of the Great Lakes governors (except Minnesota) are recommending a precedent-setting diversion of Lake Michigan water that includes a controversial wastewater discharge in the Root River through Racine to be monitored on behalf of the Great Lakes region by…the same Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Remember the DNR's $464 fine for a million-gallon manure spill, some of which reached a creek?

Or the DNR's refusal to follow a judge's order to rein in manure contamination of rural drinking water supplies?

Which is what you get when self-regulation and voluntary compliance is the new DNR 'philosophy' for the once-regulated.

As I'd said recently, and which the news today about the Wisconsin DNR's tolerance of polluters reinforces, why would these other states' officials entrust the Wisconsin DNR under Walker - - and I mean the top political appointees, not the dedicated line staffers trying to hold the line despite layoffs and budget cuts and heavy-handed politicized supervision from the top down - - with a shred of responsibility for the monitoring of such a precedent-setting undertaking involving the people's water?

Federal appeals court Judge Diane Sykes on Trump's 11-name SCOTUS list

Hardly a surprise given her resume and far-right credentials, but would age rule her out?
Apart from Sykes, who is 58, the others all are younger than 55 and David Stras is just 41. The eight men and three women on the list are all white.

Waukesha diversion, with conditions, moved closer to approval, but...

[Updated at 3:22 p.m.] An advisory body this morning representing eight Great Lakes US states and two Canadian provinces moved Waukesha's precedent-setting application for a diversion of water to the region's final decision-makers - - the eight US governors only - - with a number of conditions I outlined in a posting yesterday.

Basically, the advisory body cut the physical area to which Waukesha could ship the water, reduced the  volume of water which can be diverted, requires Waukesha to do some water quality monitoring and testing along its waste water return route in the Root River through Franklin and Racine, and would further limit new groundwater pumping in the Lake Michigan watershed that could negate the net benefit to the watershed which Waukesha and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have said would result when Waukesha substitutes lake water for its current deep-well, aquifer-depleting water pumping.

The recommendation, through an amendment by Minnesota. also grants "any Party" - - presumably a Compact member - - the right to intervene in subsequent, diversion-related actions. In early posts, I had used the word "citizens," thus likely overstating who had this access.
The advisory body's website is here.

Groups opposing the diversion had this to say:

“We are pleased that the Regional Body agreed with us that Waukesha’s proposal as submitted does not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact and is recommending modifications to its proposal. But we are disappointed that the Regional Body did not completely reject Waukesha’s flawed diversion proposal. We need to carefully examine the conditions that the Regional Body has recommended to determine if they uphold the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact. When complete, we will forward our assessment to the jurisdictions and the Regional Compact Council, which is scheduled to meet on June 21 or 22.” 
Curiously, Minnesota's representative, citing the need for more study, abstained from voting on the recommendations. It is unclear how much time Minnesota needs to get its remaining questions answered, or precisely what those questions are, or whether the abstention is a signal that Minnesota's Governor will cast an eventual "no" vote at the Governors' final decision-making meeting in a few weeks.

Minnesotans overwhelmingly opposed the diversion application - - as did people across the entire Great Lakes region. In the thousands, by a ration of 99:1 against.

The application's review and approval vote are governed under a 2008 US/Canadian Compact incorporated into US law.

Under that law, any "no" vote from a US Great Lakes Governor would kill the application - - but would not rule out a revised application, additional reviewes, etc.

It is also not clear how the Great Lakes governors will guarantee their several diversion conditions will be met or enforced - - a real question given that this is the first diversion application to go through the process - - and given the DNR's passive approach these days to enforcement, the Walker administration's proven disdain for regulation in the public interest, and the current Attorney General's newly-disclosed disinterest in water protections long guaranteed in Wisconsin law and included in the Wisconsin Constitution.

Remember that Walker is beholden to developers, and cheering Realtors before whom he signed a wetlands-filling bill - - and has been since the early hours of his administration in 2011- - in fact, here's a fresh wetland filling close to Waukesha's city borders enabled by Walker's anti-environmental agenda - - and remember, too, that Waukesha County routinely gives him his biggest trove of votes.

And I find it hard to believe that the boundary limitations of the reach of the proposed diversion's conditions will limit Waukesha's growth to the city's current borders.

The agreement does put a geographical limit on Waukesha's distribution of diverted water, but not necessarily to the future expansion of its city borders - - borders which were expanded freely over the years as developers brought annexations to the city even though everyone knew that the city had water supply issues that someday had to be addressed.

I would not be surprised if growth-happy, annexation-adoring Waukesha does not find a way to keep growing and serving developers with the blessing of the Walker administration (including the Legislature, the DNR, and/or the Public Service Commission) - - or through a regional water authority - - remember that 2007 development? - - a water supplying concept endorsed a few years ago by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Commission - -  a leading supporter of Lake Michigan diversions, plural - - and the agency that created without a public hearing and barely a whisper of initial public disclosure the expanded service territory map that essentially was thrown out by the diversion application's reviewers.

Could Waukesha still access nearby shallow well water through annexations or other means to separately serve newly acquired territory with non-Lake Michigan diverted water - - thus capturing more neighboring property's service charges, tax revenues and development potential.

In other words, the diversion application as recommended for final approval - - as I read it - - limits where Waukesha can send Great Lakes water, but does not create a hard-and-fast city border and growth boundary which can still be expanded creatively.

Side question - - how did the neighboring and smaller Town of Waukesha like being treated by the City of Waukesha and the regional planning commission for the let six years like a well-heeled-consultant-hiring, election-roiled-in-or-out-of-the-application ping pong ball?

Anyway - - the Governors have yet to cast their votes. Minnesota's path is unclear. Litigation over the advisory body's recommendations, or the states' final voting, is also unpredictable.

So stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MN, MI want more public interest/clout in Waukesha diversion plan

There are some interesting developments in the ongoing vetting by US and Canadian Great Lakes reviewers of Waukesha's precedent-setting application - - the reviewers' website is here - - for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan and its return as treated water via the Root River and the Racine Harbor.
I'd felt the reviewers' evolving "findings" were not strong on enforcement of a possible diversion agreement at the very time that GOP Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel had just given GOP legislators formal advice that undermined long-standing water access and quality protections guaranteed in the Wisconsin Constitution.

And while GOP Gov. Scott Walker had been for years weakening environmental enforcement and state water stewardship responsibilities and actions in favor of special interests across the state.

And while he has cut Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource science staff, and reduced enforcement actions in favor of so-called voluntary self-enforcement by 'regulated' businesses instituted by the "chamber of commerce mentality" leadership he placed intentionally atop the agency which .

All of which is well-known in Wisconsin, and also noted nationally.

Which is why I'd asked in a recent blog posting how the other Great Lakes states would entrust management to Walker, et al, of a first-of-its-kind diversion from the world's largest supply of fresh surface water which is owned as a public trust by eight Great Lakes states.

Now I don't want to get raise false hopes - - and I still think that Waukesha and the DNR gave short shrift to non-diversion alternatives - - but it may be that some of the other states' reviewers are in fact listening to the 11,000 commenters who weighed in 99:1 against the diversion, and have grasped that a diversion of Great Lakes water, if it is to be approved for a Wisconsin community, has to be tied to written requirements under a guiding 2008 US/Canadian water management Compact which flow directly from the Walker/Schimel disregard for public water rights.

*  First of all, the reviewers in early meetings trim back Waukesha's roughly 10-million-gallon-per-day maximum average diversion request to about 8.2 million gallons by deleting nearly all of a so-called expanded service territory which included acreage in parts of several of Waukesha's neighboring municipalities which had not asked for diverted water.

Even though Waukesha and the DNR had long argued that it was permissible to rope those communities into the application without their say-so.

In other words, the reviewers were saying no diverted water for sprawl, or for communities which never applied for it, or expressed a need for it, or had in place the kind of water conservation planning required, regardless of the WI DNR's thumbs-up.

* Now the reviewers are looking at two proposed, publicly-spirited amendments by other states' representatives to the proposed findings upon which a final "yes" or "no" vote by the eight US Great Lakes governors would be based.

One proposed amendment - - link here - - is a proposal from Michigan. It notes that because the diversion plan guarantees the creation of a net benefit for the Lake Michigan watershed, the finding should include an assignment to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that it "should use all of its legal authority" to prevent any groundwater withdrawals in the Lake Michigan watershed "that would reduce that benefit."

My personal observation: this amendment could be a counter to the Schimel argument that Wisconsin - - and this is where Walker and the Legislature are definitely headed - -  should make easier to operate new high-capacity wells for mega-daires or mines or other developments without taking into account the cumulative effects downstream.

Because any nine-year-old Wisconsin boy or girl with a fishing pole knows that too much water taken out of the ground upstream or that is allowed to flow back downstream from an industrial-scale dairy has a lot to with whether there are fish to catch or - - as data show - - clean water back home to drink.

Additionally, one close observer of the process said Waukesha seemed to know the contents of Schimel's ruling before it hit the media - - and that filtered out among some attending the reviewers' last round of meetings in Chicago - - indicating a close political connection that did not bode well for Great Lakes water stewardship and which could have fed the belief that stronger water protections were needed in the reviewers'  findings if a diversion agreement were to move towards approval.

Another proposed amendment to findings - - link here - - is a proposal from Minnesota. It would give "any Party" the right "to initiate actions to compel compliance" with of any part of the diversion agreement. That would address the lack of enforcement language in the reviewers' findings and boost the public's enforcement opportunities.

All of which puts more "public" and "trust" in the Public Trust Doctrine.

I can't say if these amendments will be approved by the reviewers, and later by the Governors, nor do I know how Walker, Schimel, Waukesha and Wisconsin's DNR reviewers will react to them.

But I interpret the amendments as endorsements for the people's ultimate ownership of the Great Lakes, and for the Public Trust Doctrine which has long-elevated the primacy of the public's benefit from all the waters of the Great Lakes.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Walkerites add to their 'little' wetland fillings

Before we look at the latest example, let's read again the historic warning against so-called small Wisconsin water losses - - a concept so foundational to sane public interest water management that the Wisconsin Supreme Court used it to anchor a ruling still cited by the Wisconsin DNR which Walker is systematically destroying:
"A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body may be eaten away until it may no longer exist. Our navigable waters are a precious natural heritage, once gone, they disappear forever," wrote the Wisconsin State Supreme Court justices in their opinion resolving Hixon v. PSC.(2)
And which the corporate-obedient Wi Attorney General Brad Schimel is trying to undo through an advisory opinion sought by the corporate-obedient GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Now remember that immediately upon his January, 2011 swearing-in, Gov. Walker administratively suspended a wetland filling permit review by the DNR on behalf of a campaign contributor:
Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Friday that would allow a developer to construct a retail center favored by the Green Bay Packers on a wetland near Lambeau Field.  
Walker introduced the legislation in January at the request of the developer after planning had slowed for a Bass Pro Shops, or another retailer, for a store at Highway 41 and Lombardi Ave. in Ashwaubenon, a suburb of Green Bay. 
Now after more bills to ease development in wetlands have been proposed and promoted by insiders who bragged about it and then signed in front of the special interests which will benefit, file away this fresh example that has its roots in Walker's campaign against the Wisconsin environment:
A proposal by Steinhafels Furniture to fill wetland areas to make way for the company's continued expansion has been given the green light by the city's plan commission.

Special interests would bleed Wisconsinites for road tolls

So an out-of-state toll-road operators' trade association is urging Wisconsin policy-makers to deal with "slashed budgets" - - with no responsibility assigned - - and get Bucky on the toll-road bandwagon.
Infrastructure deterioration in Wisconsin — due largely to slashed budgets — affects almost every industry and motorist in the state. 
I-Pass (logo).png

Do these self-interested tool-beneficiaries know what's happening right now in Wisconsin?

This is a state where people making the minimum wage are locked by Scott Walker into the federal minimum of $7.25/hr.

Where poverty is at a 30-year high.

This is the state where Walker - - the incumbent gubernatorial friend of in-state road-builders - - has already presided over the nation's deepest loss of middle-class incomes and where residents pay huge premiums for routine medical car compared to other states.

From what pockets of disposable income are those tolls to be paid?

And shed no crocodile tears for Wisconsin's Department of Transportation and its alleged budget woes.

This is the agency which has been caught by a federal judge having prepared to waste $140 million on an expansion of Highway 23.

And wants to spend more than $1 billion to expand I-94 instead of dedicating what funding it has to repair a state road system allowed to deteriorate because contractors make more money laying concrete than patching it.

The icing on the cake: Walker vetoed from the last budget a legislative call for an audit of state highway spending.

Give road-builders and their political protectors more money to spend, especially from a dedicated revenue stream and we'll have more unfilled potholes, cancelled buses and fewer trains.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

WI water regulation retreat a red flag for Waukesha diversion enforcement

[Updated from 5/14, 5:06 p.m.] When it comes to the oversight role which diversion reviewers from eight Great Lakes states expect the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to play in the implementation of Waukesha's precedent-setting application for Great Lakes water, let's look for guidance at the difference between "shall" and "should."

First - - some background.
Lake Michigan Landsat Satellite Photo.jpg

One key to the kind of regulatory state-level oversight to be expected from Wisconsin on this potentially-precedent setting Great Lakes diversion, its return flow prescription through the Root River and Racine, and all the environmental issues in between was signaled when GOP Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel - - previously Waukesha County's elected, GOP District Attorney - - and deeply wedded to big business and special interests - - said last week in a formal, anti-conservation opinion that a unanimous, 7-0 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling known as the Lake Beulah decision did not give the Department of Natural Resources the authority to regulate the downstream, cumulative impacts and water quality of high-capacity well siting and operations.

That was a win at the expense of the public's rights to clean and accessible water held in trust by government for the crowd which Schimel and Gov. Walker serves - - corporate farms and animal feeding operations, among other big water users - - and a signal that Wisconsin is no longer in the business of tough water regulation with the public interest in mind.. 

As Wisconsin had been for decades when it led the region and country in science-based water policy.

And given that the DNR has intentionally cut back on inspections and enforcement actions since Walker installed his infamous "chamber of commerce mentality" atop the agency;

And given that the DNR is also already tolerating groundwater pollution in Wisconsin drinking water near large animal feeding operations - - even after a judge wanted that drinking water quality regulated;

Let's ask why should anyone or any institution, including the other Great Lakes states, believe for one second that the DNR will be directed by Walker or Schimel or the GOP-led Legislature to enforce even the weak standards which could soon 'regulate' a Waukesha diversion of Great Lakes water as laid out in a set of eased "findings' by regional diversion application reviewers?

Here is the reviewers' website, and let's note or qn example already posted at this blog of some watering down by the reviewers of Wisconsin's oversight obligations should the diversion win subsequent approval from all eight Great Lakes states governors.

The Governors meet next month to make their decision - - all eight Great Lakes governors must vote "yes" for Waukesha's $207 million diversion plan to be implemented.

Now note in the most recent, May 11th version of the reviewers' draft findings that the DNR "should" do some things - - but the reviewers are not firmly assigning specific oversight duties with the term "shall."

For example, from the latest version of the reviewers'  findings document:
  1. As a condition of the recommendation of the Diversion, WDNR should use all of its available legal authority [regarding] any other groundwater withdrawals within the Recommended Diversion Area.
Bottom line - - greater power is defaulted to the regulated party - - Waukesha - - and not to the regulators in the WI DNR, or in the other states where the reviewers seem eager to wash their hands of the tough-regulator title.

Begging the question: what the heck was all that work on the 2008 agreement under which this diversion is being sought if the reviewers appear so compliant right out of the gate?

Not convinced?

Take a look back at the first, April 27 draft findings, where reviewers recommended that the DNR carry out certain oversight duties through the affirmative directive "shall."

That language - - below - - is no longer in the latest version of the findings. 

It is gone without a hint of authorship or editing  - - gone, in part, thanks to the Waukesha-based Wisconsin Attorney General's oh-so-timely release of his advisory opinion negating the relevancy of the Lake Beulah decision and its protection of downstream, public water rights.

Believe me - - and I say this as a person who worked in state and local governments for many years - - everyone knows the difference between the affirmative "shall" and the 'Gee, I did my best, but...' wiggle room- laden "should."

From the April 27th draft:
  1. Pursuant to the holdings of the Lake Beulah decision, WDNR shall consider its public trust duties implicated by any water supply well permit application within the Southeast Wisconsin Groundwater Management Area and conduct any necessary environmental evaluations required to prevent such impacts.
  2. WDNR shall use all of its available legal authority to prevent any new wells for Public Water Supply Purposes within the Southeast Wisconsin Groundwater Management Area that would result in the withdrawal of radium-contaminated groundwater and the dispersion of that radium throughout the environment. Pursuant to the holdings of the Lake Beulah decision, WDNR shall consider its public trust duties implicated by any water supply well permit application within the Southeast Wisconsin Groundwater Management Area and conduct any necessary environmental evaluations required to prevent such impacts. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Profs rebut, fact-check Walker - - who couldn't care less

[Updated with a new Walker whopper Friday, 5/13 and another update Saturday, 5/14  Read on...] 

This excellent critique of Scott Walker's know-nothing, out-of-bounds and grossly ideologically attack on UW faculty, the teaching profession and our public universities' legacies would rattle most people if their statements and motives had been exposed as thoroughly shallow and deceitful - - but years of Scott Walker manipulations and distortions, and false narratives from justifying Act 10 to demolishing the Wisconsin Idea to requiring Voter photo ID to failing at job growth to mandating drug tests for the unemployed and poor to verbalizing two-faced presidential campaign plans to repeatedly making less-than-truthful, flat-out false and pants-on-fire dishonest statement-after-statement documented by PolitiFact on a range of issues prove that Walker has no interest in or dedication to facts.

He is consumed only by career opportunism.

And winning the next election - - for donors and holding power - - as their puppet and proxy.

In other words, in Walkerspeak, so what if the UW system is eroding as a direct result of his policies, with national media watching?

The End of Research in Wisconsin
And if Walker reads a subsequent piece by yet another UW professor who is resigning and moving from her liberal arts faculty position and the UW flagship school in liberal Madison - - he'll no doubt say, 'mission accomplished.' 

After all, the far right has been forever angry at the UW Madison over its liberal reputation, and its key position within the city, so now they are in a position to weaken both the university and the city, and are doing so systematically.

[Update] And less than two hours after I posted this site,, PolitiFact weighed in against a Walker attack on the UW system and UW-M in particular with a harsh, "Pants-on-Fire" finding:
Charging that the ratio of students to faculty at UW-Milwaukee is shrinking, Walker said the school has "2.8 students per faculty" member, "tied for second-lowest in its history since 1994." 
But Walker cited the wrong statistic. 
In fact, UW-Milwaukee has 29 students for every professor, associate professor and assistant professor -- and that ratio has been growing, not shrinking, since 1994.
For a statement that is false and ridiculous, our rating is Pants on Fire.
And Saturday:

Leaving UW: Reduced funding, politics force fond faculty to say farewell