Turns out that the Bureau, along with the oversight committee, asked Stepp for a plan five months ago to comply with an audit and state wastewater standards and enforcement; Stepp, having not forwarded a plan, has asked for an extension without giving any reason why she needed more time.
MADISON (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the state Department of Natural Resources. And he has, cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry. And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.
Thanks to Tommy Thompson's success nearly 20 years before in making the DNR secretary a gubernatorial appointment and Doyle's failure to overturn it, one of Walker's first acts was to make an outspoken critic of the DNR, former state Sen. Cathy Stepp, the department's new secretary. It's been downhill ever since. The department has been complicit in weakening permitting regulations. An audit has found it derelict in enforcing its own policies when dealing with polluters. Large animal-feeding operations, CAFOs, have gone virtually unchecked. The science services division was dismantled. Large cutbacks were made in the staffs that deal with hunting and fishing.
Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law center, works closely with DNR engineers and scientists to review and comment on pollution permits for activities such as wastewater disposal and groundwater pumping under the Clean Water Act. In the past, Wright says, the process was typically straightforward, and she and colleagues were routinely able to hammer out permits that followed the technical requirements of the law.
A sweeping plan drawn up in Wisconsin’s Republican- controlled Legislature would scatter Department of Natural Resources parks, forestry, environmental, hunting and fishing programs among three existing agencies and two new ones.
The proposal’s sponsor provided scant specific reasons for seeking the change except to say he wants to help business operators and outdoors enthusiasts who have told him the DNR “is just not working in its current form.”
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources leaders are seeking new ways to ensure that they retain crucial institutional knowledge as they unveil a reorganization to wary employees amid a wave of retirements that now includes high-profile managers. DNR shortcomings in hiring and training new workers came to light in June when a state audit linked them to flaws in DNR enforcement of laws aimed at preventing pollution of lakes, streams and drinking water.
"Organizers said that, in part, this meeting is in response to the number of frac sand mines and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that are not being regulated properly by the DNR and other local bodies, citing reasons of not having enough staff, not having enough funding, and not having enough support from legislators."
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources leaders on Wednesday announced a sweeping reorganization aimed at providing relief to overburdened workers in its troubled water quality program and making state parks and wildlife management more efficient. George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who directs the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said some of the changes could prove helpful, but the ailing DNR needs more employees, not a reorganization, Meyer said. The DNR has come under fire from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for deficiencies in Clean Water Act enforcement and by the audit bureau for failing to conduct timely inspections of large dairy operations or adequately review manure spreading plans or annual compliance reports.
After years of complaints about tainted drinking water and weed-choked waterways, proposals for tighter state restrictions on industrial-scale dairy operations are in the works. Without adequate law enforcement, the state could slide back toward the polluted conditions that existed before enactment of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, and he’s not sure the Legislature is prepared to make needed changes. “The people of this state believe in water quality. We brag about our lakes and rivers and having great places to fish in and swim in.”