The Walker Conservation
During his first legislative session, Scott Walker proved to be the most anti-conservation Governor in Wisconsin’s history. From air to water and land to wildlife, Governor Walker left no stone unturned, desecrating the things that make Wisconsin a great place to live, play, and work. The Walker Conservation Failure Files detail his many conservation failures.
File V: Enforcement Fail
Governor Walker’s Department of Natural Resources has stopped taking action against polluters who illegally contaminate our water, air, and land. Since Walker took office, enforcement against illegal polluters has dropped from an average of 516 notices per year to just 233.
Human Sewage Spreading
As an example (we hope you are sitting down and definitely not eating), one of those illegal polluters, Herr Environmental, was treating fields with 300% as much human waste as their permit allowed, endangering 40 nearby drinking water wells. They even cooked their books to show that they were in compliance.1
Herr Environmental is a known “bad actor,” having been slapped with a $240,000 fine for previous environmental offenses.2 The top DNR investigator on the most recent infraction called the violations among “the worst he’d seen.”1 Surely this means Herr Environmental was punished to the full extent of the law? Not with Governor Walker in charge.
Instead, Herr Environmental got off the hook with the lowest fine possible. Political appointees in the Walker DNR overrode the DNR staff’s recommendation to pursue charges through the Department of Justice. Incidentally, the owners of Herr Environmental – Richard and Jody Herr – are donors to Scott Gunderson, a top political appointee in the Walker DNR who urged DNR staff to drop enforcement proceedings against the company.1 The Herrs have also donated to Governor Walker, and $2250 to Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and husband Rep. Joel Kleefisch3 who interceded on the behalf of the Herr – trying to get the DNR to let up on the known polluter.
Call it “turning a blind eye” or “political cronyism” or “payback for campaign donors” but at the end of the day, it comes down to one fact – Scott Walker’s DNR protects polluters. As a result, 30 families in Jefferson County are at risk of drinking well water contaminated with human waste.
Enforcement actions against violators are down 55%. Of the remaining violations that are pursued, there has been an astounding 68% drop in the number referred for prosecution to the Department of Justice (the average dropped from 65 referrals to just 21).4 The summary: Fewer polluters are getting caught and more of the polluters who are caught are getting off the hook.
The long-term effect is that some industries known to be very environmentally destructive are going without any oversight by DNR at all.
Reports from personnel inside the DNR claim that some industries – such as the proliferating and very controversial frac sand mining industry – are going unmonitored. A recently retired DNR official (who wishes to remain anonymous) informed the staff of Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters that DNR enforcement staff are not able to monitor the rapidly expanding frac sand industry and that “some facilities will not be seen by a DNR staffer for 20 years.” Our source also tells us of a specific instance of an environmental violation where frac sand run-off pollution entered a trout stream, and the case went unprosecuted due to understaffing.
On top of lax oversight of polluting industries, the Herr Environmental human waste episode gets at something far more sinister at DNR – well-heeled, politically-connected, industry bigwigs are getting special treatment from the political appointees at DNR.
Take CAFOs, the concentrated animal feeding operations that house thousands upon thousands of animals. In the rare instances where a violation by a CAFO operation was documented, you’ll find that pardoned violators are “politically connected.” It doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to think that one of these polluters could have pulled strings at DNR in the same manner as Herr Environmental.
The list of violators who have had their cases dismissed contains individuals who have donated $5,000 to Scott Walker, are key leaders in influential agri-business lobbying special interest groups that support Scott Walker, as well as individuals who have been slapped with tens of thousands of dollars in fines for past violations.4
We don’t know the detailed history of these particular factory farm violations or if DNR’s determination to stop enforcement proceedings was the right decision or not – and that is precisely the problem.
Given the obvious lack of integrity of the DNR leadership – how can the citizens of Wisconsin be sure that the laws that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink are actually being enforced? Illegal polluters will always take the option of writing a $5,000 campaign contribution check to a candidate for Governor – it’s called insurance.
Walker’s DNR – The Blind Leading the Blinded
The new political culture at DNR seems to be “Look away, or better yet, never look at all!” That leadership culture is established at the top, by Governor Walker, and it is carried out day-to-day by his political appointees.
For years, conservationists of all political stripes have been calling for a return to an independently-appointed DNR Secretary to take politics out of DNR. Governor Walker opposes the independent DNR secretary5 but every day he stays in office, he provides further proof of why it is desperately needed.
We can’t afford to allow polluters to run roughshod over the health and future of our families. Stay tuned for more from the Walker Conservation Failure Files.
4) Compilation of DNR Enforcement Data 2000-2011