Will Wisconsin’s new DNR chief serve the people, the environment or polluters? Another Overlooked Vapor Intrusion Problem Surfaces

In the wake of the hysteria generated by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s crusade against collective bargaining for public sector workers like teachers and firefighters, a new tea party inspired problem has surfaced in Wisconsin.  This problem concerns the environment. Walker’s controversial appointment of Cathy Stepp as Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary has led to a change in the way the DNR is looking to do business.  Apart from the extremely limited experience Stepp brings with her to the job (she and her husband operated their own home construction business and she only served three years on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board ending in 2001) she has created a leadership team with questionable backgrounds.  Her deputy secretary was previously the executive director of the Metropolitan Builders Association of Greater Milwaukee and her executive assistant served 16 years as a Republican in the state assembly.   More critically, Stepp’s emphasis is on a more streamlined agency, one that will lead to permits that are both greater in number and more lenient. As reported in the June 10 issue of the Isthmus, Rep. Brett Hulsey, a democrat from Madison, said, “The fundamental problem here is that you have the fox in charge of the chicken coop.”  He went on to express a concern held by many, “The Walker campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars from polluters.  Cathy Stepp is the payback for those contributions.” The DNR is in place to oversee the protection of Wisconsin’s environment and it is meant to serve the citizens of the state.  Instead of serving the citizens of Wisconsin, Cathy Stepp is looking out for DNR’s “customers”–the very polluters she should be watching.  Her effort to postpone the implementation of new phosphorous pollution limits, the result of five years of discussion within the Joint Finance Committee, is an example of her mindset.  The rules on phosphorous limits are designed to set water quality standards for waterways, municipalities, and industries.  The runoff of phosphorous from fertilizers and industries has led to large algae blooms in lakes and rivers throughout Wisconsin.  Stepp’s defense of her desire to postpone the rules that could largely cut down on the phosphorous problem is that it would lead to major problems with the businesses and municipalities which would incur the cost associated with implementing regulatory technology.  But, what is the cost to the environment and to the people of Wisconsin?  The choice of Stepp as the new DNR Secretary may have created a serious problem for the state of Wisconsin.  The mindset that she brings to the job, one which is driven by the pocketbooks of polluters and may not consider costs to the environment and the people, may hurt the environment that Wisconsin citizens hold dear.  In my first post in this blog, I wrote about a vapor intrusion problem affecting people living near the Madison-Kipp plant in Madison.  Walker’s choice of Stepp causes us to ask the question: can we trust the DNR with our health and the environment when it comes to issues like these?

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