By John Kaufman
We in Wisconsin owe a great debt of gratitude to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency without which we would likely be facing the prospect of a huge new iron ore mine in the lovely, hilly, wetland-blessed Penokee Hills and having the mining company’s lobbyist placed in a high-ranking WI Dept. of Natural Resources position. Without the EPA, we might even have become by now a colony of Texas.
Imagine a state agency whose mission is actually to protect our natural heritage. (These days in Wisconsin, it takes a lot of imagination.) Henceforth Wisconsin’s DNR, under Gov. Walker, shall be known, at least around the Afternoon Journal, as the Dept. of Not Really (doing its job.) Which, of course, is unfair to all the dedicated DNR employees who are, despite Republican leadership, trying to do their jobs in the name of managing and protecting Wisconsin’s natural, ecological health. “Elections have consequences”– and that’s why all of us of voting age should be voting in every election we can. (Please vote today.)
One of the reasons cited by Gogebic Taconite for formally withdrawing its plan to mine the Penokee Range was fear of what the EPA might do– actually protect the environment? But the EPA had, ironically, refused to evaluate what the big mine would likely do to the land and water of WI when six Chippewa tribes asked the EPA politely to do so. The other reason GTac says it balked had to do with the shocking discovery of more water and wetlands in the area than the mining corporation had anticipated. But the company mostly blamed the EPA and packed its bags. Though GTac managed to pretty much write its own mining bill and have Republican Wisconsin do its bidding (thanks in part to hefty contributions), it couldn’t influence EPA, whose science-based integrity and independent past actions made the corporation nervous.
But Wisconsin remains open for business lobbyists, as some fine reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel uncovered yet another embarrassing/ill-advised/really-dumb-and bordering-on-corrupt Walker administration idea: make the guy who did the lobbying for GTac in Wisconsin, Robert Seitz, into the deputy secretary of the DNR, and do it even before the mining company actually bid the state farewell.
Here’s what Gov. Walker’s spokeswoman had to say to the Journal Sentinel. The first sentence deserves to be engraved in stone somewhere in the Capitol building:
“It came to our attention as we were considering Bob Seitz for several administration positions that there could be a potential conflict. There is an EPA law that prohibits individuals who have worked for a company that is applying for or has received air and/or water permits from working within the chain of command for the governing body of those permits for two years.”
The “potential conflict” turned out not to be the fact that Seitz was a lobbyist for the mining corporation who, had he gotten the job, would have potentially helped oversee the regulation of the mining corporation. No, the conflict was the big, bad EPA which has this onerous, nit-picky law that says lobbyists for corporations seeking air or water permits must wait a whole two years before they can serve as regulators to their former employers. Two years is surely enough time for old loyalties, political ideologies and bank accounts to dwindle away.
But, ultimately, the Walker administration did the right thing: it did not appoint the former lobbyist for GTac to the DNR. Instead, the Walker administration appointed the same Robert Seitz, former lobbyist also for utility investors (and, by extension, investor-owned utilities) to the Public Service Commission to be Executive Assistant of PSC chairwoman Ellen Nowak. The PSC’s job is to regulate utilities in the public interest, though these days the PSC, judging from recent rulings by Gov. Walker’s appointees, seems primarily interested in being an investor-owned utility lobbyist.
Wisconsin is no longer merely “open for business.” Wisconsin is now in the business of openly opening itself to business. Why not sell the whole state to Texas? Creating “North Texas” would be a bold free market merger/solution to our slumping government and economy.
Editor’s Update 4/7— Wisconsin DNR now “mulls dissolving science bureau.” Might as well just dissolve itself.