James Rowen
Op Ed

The Special Interests Governor

Average citizens don't count when Walker and Republicans decide environmental policy.

By - Apr 29th, 2018 03:56 pm
Governor Scott Walker. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Governor Scott Walker. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It’s remarkable how quickly the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources made its decision on Foxconn.

Having been directed more than seven years ago by right-wing Republican Gov. Scott Walker to operate with an altered, corrosive “chamber of commerce mentality,” the DNR just issued four complex air pollution permits for the massive Foxconn plant only eight days after the public’s comment period had closed.

Why should citizens burn up their time and money and energy showing up at a public hearing on something as important as air and water quality and the prospect of being subjected to more than 700 tons of pollutants annually if such a speedy ruling indicates that decisions had already been made behind closed doors by public officials carrying out Walker’s marching orders?

And this kind of sham hearing-and-decision-making in the Walker era is par for the course – – no pun intended – – as a host of Walker-led agencies, including the DNR, the Department of Administration and Natural Resources Board  robotically supported a major Walker donor’s bid to fill wetlands and obtain state park acreage to accommodate golf course construction, again elevating privilege and access over citizen rights and the public interest.

Remember when the DNR recently ran five public hearings on big dairy and cattle herd operations in a single day?

Remember when a very high-profile case was won against one large such dairy operation and the state continued to search for a way to evade the ruling and its obligations to advocate for clean water?

I’m not suggesting that Walker and his appointees are the first to dismiss citizen rights and public input.

But I am saying this administration has refined and expanded the breadth of its service to special interests and even to donors, without shame, while ignoring the law at the same time.

It was Walker who, in the first days of his first term, personally suspended an ongoing review of a wetland filling permit, then signed a special bill to enshrine what he’d done, so one of his campaign donors could get busy filling a wetland near Lambeau Field for a developer’s big box store.

Is it any surprise that during Walker’s years in office there was the relaxing of phosphorous-polluting rules statewide, and an eight-fold increase in the number of polluted waterways in Wisconsin even though state law and Article IX of the Wisconsin Constitution say that state waters by right belong to everyone and must be made available to the public for its enjoyment by its trustee – – the DNR?

It was Walker’s GOP which housed computer-assisted gerrymandering specialists in private attorneys’ offices and required GOP legislators (Democrats were barred from the process altogether) to sign confidentiality agreements before they could see how their districts’ new boundaries were being drawn and mapped.

The goal was to water down Democratic voters’ influence – – a companion barrier to the installation by Walker-led Republicans of voter ID and the reduction of early voting hours also aimed at depressing turnout in traditionally Democratic urban and university communities.

It was Walker ally and State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who has twice tried to slip though in 11th-hour moves a wetland filling permission for a Monroe County sand mining company even though a hearing before a judge on the legality of the DNR’s wetland-filling permit was still taking testimony.

And the out-of-state mining company seeking to fill the wetland probably figures it’s due the same sort of legislated environmental and legal and permitting exemptions which Walker and the GOP-Legislature had already showered on Foxconn, and for the owners of about 100,000 wetland acres statewide recently released from state oversight.

In fact, it’s hard to expect anyone in Wisconsin to place a high value on respecting the law when Walker had to be forced by the courts to schedule two legislative special elections as required by state statutes.

This was needed to fill vacancies he had created by giving sitting legislators jobs in his administration, yet he wouldn’t call the special elections because he was afraid Democrats might win them.

It’s hard to say when this guilt-and-consequence-free/out-in-the-open disregard of the public interest and people’s rights will end.

But there’s no end to Walker’s governance by and for special interests; today we read that the Legislature and Walker, with support from the WMC, just exempted industrial slag from environmental regulation.

So look for more waterway pollution and industrial dumping, despite the toxins being released.

Maybe the US Supreme Court will declare the GOP’s power-grabbing gerrymander overtly unconstitutional, and at some point we will have more fair elections statewide.

It’s possible that, God forbid, there will come a severe case of fecal contamination in Kewaunee County drinking water tied to either the state’s avoidance of regulation, or to dairy herd manure runoff – – or both – – that finally mobilizes Wisconsin public opinion and forces remedial state action, however tardy.

But how foolish the state will look if it takes long-delayed action in a courtroom or a crisis in an emergency room to get some commonsense restored here.

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

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

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