Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Wisconsin is blessed with pristine lakes, gorgeous wetlands, and beautiful woods. The people of our state take good advantage of these public assets through hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, boating, and swimming. The Wisconsin outdoors draws many visitors to our state, boosting the economy. Travelers in our state spend 12.3 billion dollars each year and one of nine state jobs depend on travel and tourism.
Since January of 2011, our natural resources have been under attack by the Walker administration. To this group, economic growth and protecting the environment seem to be incompatible.
Illustrative of Scott Walker's disdain for the environment is his appointment of Cathy Stepp as DNR Secretary. Cathy is a one-term former state senator and real estate developer who is a long time critic of the DNR. During her term, she supported legislation that weakened environmental protection, earning failing 29% and 8% Sierra Club scores. She has neither experience in managing governmental organizations nor any background in environmental law, life sciences, or natural resource management.
Cathy has already shown her stripes in over a year on the job. In an unprecedented display of partisanship, she wrote an op-ed piece attacking state senators opposed to the industry-written open-pit mining bill. She asked for a delay in the important regulation of phosphate pollution. She has openly discussed selling-off public lands. Under her watch, there has been a dramatic drop in environmental enforcement. The number of ticketed violations of state environmental permits last year dropped to a 12-year low, going from a ten year average of 516 to 233.
Stepp's Executive Assistant, Walker political appointee and former State Representative Scott Gunderson, chose to handle a recent severe pollution case "internally" rather than turn the matter over to the Department of Justice. A company owned by one of his former political donors, Herr Environmental, dumped three times the permissible amount of human waste on a field, risking the pollution of nearby wells. Despite the seriousness of the offense, Herr was let off with a slap-on-the-wrist minimum fine. This seems to be typical of Walker's new, customer-friendly DNR.
Putting Cathy Stepp in charge of the DNR is like naming Mitt Romney Chairman of the ASPCA. Like making John Edwards a marriage counselor. Like electing Donald Trump as President of the Hair Club for Men. In naming her to the position, Walker said "I wanted someone with a chamber-of-commerce mentality." There are already plenty of lobbyists and money on the side of polluters and developers. We need a DNR Secretary who is an advocate for our natural resources, not a rubber stamp.
Aside from the bizarre choice of DNR Secretary, there have been many other Walker administration affronts to the environment. Among the most egregious are:
-A provision in the budget bill that eliminated both mandates and grants to municipalities and counties for recycling, a program that has been in place since 1990. Only about 60% of the grant funds were later restored by the legislature.
-In February, Walker signed a controversial bill (2011 Act 118) making it easier for developers to build on wetlands. He signed to a standing ovation at a conference of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, his largest 2010 political contributor.
-The budget bill axed the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund by 30% per year. This fund is used by the DNR to preserve land from development.
-The budget bill cut funding for public transit and repealed all regional transit authorities, jeopardizing transit options that clean-up the air, save fuel, and move people to their workplace.
-Walker attempted to roll-back, then delay implementation of phosphate pollutant limits for water treatment plants, paper-mills, and factories. Current DNR enforcement of the law is lax and slow. Excess phosphate in natural waters leads to run-away algae growth, sick swimmers, and dead fish.
In case after case, Scott Walker has favored polluters and developers over the environment. He has jeopardized our tourism industry and the outdoor activities of Wisconsin citizens. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors, drinks water, or breathes air in Wisconsin should be very concerned. We need to get back to a Wisconsin in which environmental protection and job creation can exist side-by side. We must again have an administration that makes it a priority to protect our woods, lakes, and wetlands.
Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got "til it's gone?