Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

That Smell of Sewage, and of Shirking Responsibility

This business of the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources cutting slack to a septic waste hauler smells, well, like raw sewage.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp’s responses have gone from defensiveness, to shooting the messenger (criticizing the Wisconsin State Journal for, essentially, doing what a good newspaper does), to proposing that DNR political appointees reveal if they got campaign contributions from someone they expect to regulate. 

Rat will take up the stinky problem of “septage” spreading on farmland in a minute, but first – to the almost-as-stinky proposal by Secretary Stepp to “fix” this problem by having agency staff reveal conflicts of interest they might have with people they should regulate. 

This assumes that DNR is run by people who get campaign contributions. The fact is, very few people, even political appointees, are in a position to get campaign contributions that would affect their decisions at the agency.  

This “fix” is a smokescreen.  The underlying problem with the DNR is its single-minded focus on serving the “customer,” whom the current regime sees as business people who should not be regulated, and the DNR’s job is to clear regulatory brush out of their way.  This mentality overlooks an essential fact:  that ALL citizens of the state are DNR’s “customers.”  The agency’s job is to protect the resource.  By giving this septic waste hauler a pass for violating state law, they were willing to risk contaminating the wells of other “customers” – those people whose houses adjoined the fields where the septic waste was illegally spread.

One not unreasonable excuse Stepp gave for lax enforcement by DNR since Scott Walker was elected was a lack of staff.  But the Walker administration has no intention of beefing up enforcement of polluters.  Gov. Walker defended the DNR's actions on the septic waste incident in a statement last week, and in a recent email invitation to environmental groups to discuss the DNR’s upcoming budget, the Governor’s office told us we should come to the meeting with these “guiding principles” in mind:  

“….not spending money that the state doesn’t have; smaller government is better government; and people create jobs, not government.”  

Translation:  don’t come asking for more DNR staff, and don’t ask us to enforce the law. 

Speaking of laws– those regulating the spreading of liquid waste, colloquially known as “sludge” –spreading sludge on farmland is legal, and is mildly regulated by DNR.  State and county conservation staffers who work with sludge haulers say that while municipalities and industries can generally be trusted to play by the rules, the guys hauling septic wastes are often cowboys – flaunting the rules and not bothering with the paperwork required.  

A simple policy solution to that problem would be to send all septic wastes to the nearest municipal sewage treatment plant, rather than spreading it, raw and untreated, on farmland.

Even with that change, we need a DNR willing to enforce the law. We’ll see if DNR can give a credible response to what’s been exposed, through this stinky incident, about its official mindset. 

No comments:

Post a Comment