On behalf of 16 petitioners from across the state, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a Petition for Corrective Action on Oct. 20 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to request action by both federal and state agencies to bring Wisconsin back into compliance with the Clean Water Act.
Wisconsin citizens petitioning the EPA have longstanding water problems from poor implementation and enforcement of the landmark federal law.
“Today, petitioners are exercising a right granted by federal law to ask the EPA to require our state Department of Natural Resources to issue water pollution permits in compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said staff Attorney Tressie Kamp. “If our DNR and state legislators do not take timely action, the petition asks that the EPA take back the DNR’s power to issue permits to industries that discharge pollutants into Wisconsin’s waters.”
In 2011, the EPA sent a letter to the DNR outlining 75 points where the state government was out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act through a lack of clear or effective implementation, enforcement or proper legal authority for the state. Since then, changes in the agency’s rulemaking process, staffing and authority within the agency’s water pollution permitting program, and circumvention of court-ordered pollution controls, in addition to cuts in the agency’s budget and science staff, have all culminated in this urgent, statewide call for action. The petition requests that the EPA works with the DNR to establish enforceable timelines for compliance.
“The Petition for Corrective Action is important and justified because it’s been more than four years – and in some instances, much longer – since the EPA put our DNR on notice that Wisconsin does not issue water pollution permits in full compliance with the federal laws that protect clean water all over our country,” said Kamp.
She added that all involved hope the DNR “will step up, not step aside” with this action and that all state residents should be upset that the DNR is not issuing water pollution permits that comply with federal law.
“The Governor and state legislature have starved the DNR’s power and robbed the agency’s experienced staff of professional autonomy to make informed decisions,” said MEA Executive Director Kimberlee Wright. “Today, this drastically narrowed authority of DNR staff to make critical decisions about protecting our water requires urgent action by the EPA. Without effective government, we are compounding what our children and grandchildren will face in a world increasingly short of drinking water.”
One of the 16 petitioners is Door County-based Dean Hoegger of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin.
“There is a long history of groups like us working with Midwest Environmental Advocates and other attorneys in the state in trying to get enforcement of the Clean Water Act,” Hoegger said. “MEA brought up this idea with us. We thought it was definitely the way to go because we lost a number of appeals to the DNR over permits. Personally, I saw so many problems with what’s happening in Kewaunee County.”
The EPA has 30 days to decide how to respond.
“We’re hoping it’s going to bring focus on the Legislature to make some changes so the DNR can be more effective both in staffing and in overseeing their charge,” Hoegger said.
The 15 other petitioners are:
• John Domino, Acting Chairman of Tarrant Lake Preservation Committee
• Ronald Grasshoff, Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway
• William Iwen, Kewaunee Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Stewardship
• Doug & Sherryl Jones, Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway
• Dave Marshall, Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway
• Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper
• Allie Raven, member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
• April Stone Dahl, member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
• Elaine Swanson, People Empowered Protect the Land of Rosendale
• Jim Swanson, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
• Nancy & Lynn Utesch, Kewaunee Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Stewardship
• Jim Wagner, Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin
• Timm Zumm, Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway
For more information on the petition, visit midwestadvocates.org/pca.