Friday, June 3, 2016

Audit says DNR not doing enough on water pollution, but AG Schimel wants DNR to do less!

The Walker Administration’s “let Big Ag do whatever they pay us to do” mentality is coming back to haunt them. I’ll start by reminding you of the excellent bit of citizen journalism MAL gave in his blog earlier this week, showing how the Central Sands of Wisconsin are being ravaged by Wysocki Farms, and their plans for a Combined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in Wood County. And little is being done by the Department of Natural Resources to protect the residents of the area from that damage.

Then look at what came out today from the Legislative Audit Bureau on the issue of DNR practices for oversight of wastewater treatment and large animal farms. First of all, the audit showed that the DNR was behind in making sure these treatment plants were keeping up with required oversight.
From 2005 through 2015, LAB found that DNR met its goal of having no more than a 10 percent backlog for municipal [wastewater] permits for 4 of these 11 years, but never met this goal for industrial permits in any of these years. DNR did meet its goal of having no more than a 15 percent backlog for CAFO permits for 9 of these 11 years.
Bad enough, but the really scary part starts when the audit digs into the CAFOs. The LAB says that these megafarm operators aren’t doing their job when it comes to policing themselves, and the DNR isn’t telling the CAFO owners when they are breaking the law.
In CAFO permitting, DNR largely relies on individual permittees to monitor their own activities, inspect their operations, and report annually to DNR. However, LAB found that only 36 of approximately 1,900 annual reports required to be submitted by CAFO permittees had been electronically recorded as being received. Also, DNR regional staff indicated they do not have time to thoroughly review each annual report submitted.

In another finding, LAB concluded that DNR did not consistently follow its own policies when issuing enforcement letters, known as notices of violation, to municipal and industrial permittees. DNR issued a notice of violation for only 33 of the 558 instances (5.9 percent) for which such a notice should have been issued based on its policies.

“This finding is troubling and I am awaiting further explanation from the agency on how they plan to address inspections and noncompliance” Cowles stated. “In addition, I am asking the Legislative Audit Bureau to analyze the amount of funding it would take to supplement the DNR’s wastewater permitting staff and program operations to address the issues identified in the audit.”
So what was the solution of Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel 3 weeks ago on this issue? “Simplify” things by limiting the ability for the DNR to inspect and restrict high-capacity wells and related pollution! Problem solved!
Schimel, a Republican, said the DNR does not have authority to put conditions on well applications that would take into account their cumulative effects on streams, rivers and lakes in the surrounding area.

The opinion was a big win for agriculture and business interests, which have charged that the DNR has incorrectly interpreted its authority by clamping on restrictions — and, in some cases, denying — applications for wells.
Hmm, wonder if Schimel’s bought-and-paid-for opinion had anything to do with trying to get out ahead of the findings of this LAB audit? Oh wait, I don’t wonder at all.

What this audit also shows is that Big Ag was lying about how restrictive the DNR was being when it came to cracking down on violators. In fact, the LAB all but calls the DNR negligent, and Sen. Cowles is openly asking for more money and more regulators to better enforce runoff pollution statutes and related issues.

And while it’s nice to hear Sen. Cowles make noise about putting resources toward cleaning up groundwater pollution and the DNR’s enforcement measures, I’m expecting other WisGOPs to use revelations like these to take a different type of action. Watch for the worst of the Bagger leggies to resurrect their call for getting rid of the LAB and having partisan hacks do the “investigating” of state agencies. After all, they wouldn’t want any inconvenient truths to get in the way of the “deregulation works best” narrative they’re trying to sell to the rubes, now would they?

C’mon rural Wisconsin! Don’t you see what GOPs are willing to let happen to you if you keep them in office? Unlike you’re cool with having your water supply poisoned, you might want to put in some new legislators this November. Just sayin’.

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