James Rowen
Op Ed

The Un-Greening of Wisconsin

Walker policies help political donors, hurt environment. Trump could pile on.

By - Mar 8th, 2017 12:29 pm
The Un-Greening of Wisconsin

The Un-Greening of Wisconsin

Here are a few points of context for the preliminary state approval of a Wisconsin frac sand mine that will destroy a Jackson County pristine wooded wetland, and also require huge amounts of groundwater for its operation:

1. This is just the latest example of Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker and his party helping the private sector absorb public resources in a loop of mutual self-interest across multiple business interests:

…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.

2. There are records of $10,300 in campaign donations from the land owner and people associated with it to Walker’s campaign, according to this report by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

3. Projects like this will probably accelerate in Wisconsin and elsewhere because Walker is lobbying Donald Trump to give states more control over environmental policy-and-decision making, and because Trump has named former pro-business Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Walker had Wisconsin join Pruitt as an anti-EPA litigant fighting federal clean air rules.

And as Trump and his budget slashers take aim at climate change science, staff and expertise at the EPA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and even the Centers for Disease Control, remember that Walker and his DNR did it first.

And let’s look at some of the earlier record and precedents:

* Scott Pruitt, meet Cathy Stepp.

In a burst of uncharacteristic transparency days before becoming Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker said he was nominating developer and outspoken Department of Natural Resources critic Cathy Stepp as agency Secretary because he wanted this critical Wisconsin environmental and management department with an open government/public health/clean water and air mission run with “a chamber of commerce mentality.”

Other division-level and senior managers have come from the forestry industry, the builders organizations, transportation and the statewide chamber of commerce, summarized here. In fact, the Wisconsin Builders Association bragged about how closely their staff worked with key DNR insiders to get the bill written.

And here are the consequences: an agency with a severely damaged mentality, and reputation, according to insiders.

* Jackson County wetland, meet one in Brown County.

Walker was sworn in as Wisconsin Governor on January 3, 2011 – – five days after announcing his selection of Steps to run the DNR – – and nine days later he suspended the review of a wetland filling permit application so one of his campaign donors could more quickly begin building a project near Lambeau Field.

A companion bill introduced at Walker’s request sped through the Legislature his party controlled.

A year later, Walker signed in front of cheering Realtors at their convention a bill which weakened environmental protections for wetlands.

As to campaign donations and environmental issues?

* Major Walker campaign donor Herb Kohler is working with the DNR on a plan to allow Kohler to turn a 247-acre wooded/wetland/artifact-rich nature preserve into a golf course along Lake Michigan.

The plan would even require four acres of an adjoining, popular state park to be included in the privately-owned, high end golf course project.

The agency is being so helpful to the golf course proponent that it hasn’t yet required the submission of a formal permit application that would greatly inform the public and expand the record – – so right there is some DNR provided, one-sided, taxpayer-paid advantage and assistance – – but the DNR did discuss whether to discipline a DNR staffer for giving opponents some public information relevant to the matter.

Does all this sound even-handed and equitable to you?

* A major lead paint maker was found to have donated $750,000 to committees tied to Walker and GOP legislators before and after the GOP-controlled Legislature rolled back lead paint manufacturers’ liability responsibilities.

* Another $700,000 was routed secretly to Walker’s campaign by an out-of-state mining company for whom Walker signed sweetheart legislation written with the company’s participation to allow the digging of a gigantic open pit mine measured in miles across the Bad River watershed and Penokee Hills in Northwest Wisconsin.

The mine proposal fell through because, as critics and the neighboring Ojibwe tribe had repeatedly argued and documented, there was too much water in the area for the mine to be established.

* A wealthy couple who had donated more than $3 million to various Walker-related campaign organizations received DNR approval to buy a prime piece of state lake frontage; public pressure blocked the deal until an alternative arrangement was approved.

Also, the DNR, with assists from Wisconsin’s corporately-attuned GOP Attorney General and State Supreme Court majority whose campaign committees have received millions of dollars in donations from Walker-sympathetic business and conservative advocacy organizations has loosened the rules governing high-volume well pumping permits which supply water to diary and farming and frackers sand operations – – but which can deplete nearby waters, as is well-known.

Records show Walker’s campaign has received more than $30,000 from two of the most recent big-volume ground water permit winners:

One of the permits was granted to James Wysocki, of Bancroft, for a well located in Pine Grove in Portage County. Wysocki and several members of his family own the Wysocki Family of Companies, which operates large vegetable and dairy farms.

The owners of the Wysocki Family of Companies contributed about $31,000 to Walker between January 2010 and August 2016…

And GOP legislators are getting ready to further loosen high-volume well permitting procedures.

In summary:

This is going to be the pattern in Wisconsin and across the country – – as I have noted here and here – – when Walker and similarly minded governors get more environmental power from the EPA which Trump will run with a chamber of commerce mentality.

Don’t think for a moment that National Parks and other public lands can’t go the way of Wisconsin state park acreage a Walker donor wants for his golf course, or the 10,000 acres of state land the Wisconsin GOP-controlled Legislature arbitrarily had the DNR put on the market – – along with permissions for Walker to sell any state asset, up to and including power plants, campus dorms, and the State Capitol.

All part and parcel of running government with “a chamber of commerce mentality.”

James Rowen, a former journalist and mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison, writes a regular blog, The Political Environment

Categories: Environment, Op-Ed, Politics

4 thoughts on “Op Ed: The Un-Greening of Wisconsin”

  1. Rich says:

    This article is more than environmental, but sharing since it is one of the central themes:

  2. Jim Maurer says:

    This is an excellent article written by a true investigative journalist. A factual “behind the scenes” look at what is happening in our community, state and country. These are the things that effect our every day lives. Perhaps if other publications actually used this technique their readers and subscribers wouldn’t be fleeing.
    I am sick and tired of those “fluff” pieces written by Don Behm. Nature as Disneyland. Example: In his January 22nd article “Asylum woods in Wauwatosa to be protected from development” he has the wicked Witch of Wauwatosa posing as the Good Queen. There’s more than those winding stone steps that are askew here! Is it any wonder that our natural environment is being bulldozed at an alarming rate?
    Way to go Urban Milwaukee and Mr. Rowen!…Jim Maurer

  3. Pay to play! An old political game that the current so called “business friendly” administrations- state and federal- are liking the benefits thereof: In their campaign coffers. Seems like a repeat of early Wisconsin history – wasn’t it Solomon Juneau who wanted a canal with lots of cash up front in certain pockets?
    We could use a return of the Progressive Era energy for a true blue populist agenda.

  4. Jim Rowen says:

    Thank you, Jim Maurer.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us