May 19, 2016
Enforcement against polluters in Wisconsin fell to a 30-year low in 2015. The cause: Looser environmental standards and fewer resources for inspections and enforcement, according to the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
The organization, which is headed by former longtime Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary George Meyer, said its review of figures obtained from the state showed animal waste, air, hazardous waste, and waste water pollution violations were down 79 percent to 100 percent in 2015, from the 10-year averages.
Fines for environmental violations totaled about $306,800 in 2015 – the lowest for a year since 1986. The 2015 environmental fines were also 86 percent lower than the 10-year average of nearly $2.2 million a year, and 78 percent lower than the nearly $1.4 million fines in 2014.
Both Meyer and Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, say they don’t believe actual environmental violations have dropped 80 percent to 90 percent in just one year.
Meyer says the problem could be fewer DNR inspections due to agency staffing and budget cuts, a lack of follow-up by the DNR on violations it finds, or a reduction in the prosecutions for environmental violations handled by the state Department of Justice.
Walker said earlier this year that a decline in violations and fines were positive signs that the DNR was working with businesses and the public to avoid environmental problems.
Walker was elected in 2010 by campaigning on a pro-business agenda that said environmental rules were too tough or too strictly interpreted by state agency and employees.
Among those who chronically complain about the DNR and its duties is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group. WMC’s 3,500 members span more than a dozen special interests, including agriculture, construction and real estate interests, whose bottom lines frequently conflict with environmental rules and enforcement.
WMC-represented interests were a major reason Walker won three elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Those interests contributed $32.2 million in direct campaign contributions to the GOP governor between January 2011 and December 2015.
In addition to direct campaign contributions, WMC, which is a top spender on legislative and statewide elections in order to influence state policy and spending, secretly raised and spent an estimated $9.5 million to help elect Walker win his three elections.