Some Worry About Stepp’s Step Up to EPA
Resigning state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp says she looks forward to bringing ideas implemented in Wisconsin “to the national stage.” Stepp is leaving to be the regional head of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 7 based in Kansas City. It oversees Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations, but not Wisconsin.
Her last day was Aug. 30.
Stepp has been DNR secretary since 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker took office and appointed her. Walker has appointed Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede to serve as interim secretary.
The secretary recently met with strong public pushback when she tried to end publication of the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. Stepp said the magazine was taking agency employees away from their core duties at the DNR.
Democrats and environmentalists were concerned the true motivation was to silence a publication that promotes science and writes articles on controversial topics such as climate change.
Former DNR secretary George Meyer said Stepp’s move to the EPA worries him because her record is the worst of seven DNR secretaries he worked with.
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Spokesman Ryan Billingham said members are glad Stepp is leaving the DNR but are concerned about her taking a national role with the EPA.
“Stepp’s tenure at the DNR has been marked by a decline in protections for Wisconsin’s natural resources,” Billingham said. “So, we see her leaving as a good thing, and we’re hopeful that her replacement will have more natural resources management experience than she did.”
Farm-To-School Coordinator Funds Restored
Agriculture groups and rural schools are celebrating lawmakers’ decision to continue funding for the state’s farm-to-school program. Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal would have cut $66,400 allocated in previous budgets for the program’s state coordinator. On Aug. 24, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to restore that funding in the next state budget.
“Wisconsin schools purchase more than $9 million directly from Wisconsin farmers,” said state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, during the JFC meeting. “That’s a huge return on investment.”
Shankland said the coordinator helps connect farmers to buyers across the state and maximize purchasing for schools.
Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said he was happy to see strong support for farm-to-school from the Legislature. “I think that was one of those items that the governor was just hoping that it was a small enough budget item that he could sneak it out and not have it in the budget anymore,” Von Ruden said. “I think the Joint Finance Committee did the right thing by putting those funds back in the budget.”
DNR Waiting on Manure Spill Report
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is waiting for a report to find out the severity of a manure spill last month in northeastern Wisconsin. Hochkammer Dairy, six miles south of Manitowoc, was deemed responsible for the Aug. 7 spill. The DNR and Manitowoc County have investigated the spill, but haven’t said how much manure went into Pine Creek, which feeds into Lake Michigan, because they’re waiting for a completed report.
DNR spokesman Ed Culhane said the farm has until Sept. 20 to complete a report, “that will detail exactly how the release occurred, how it happened, how much manure was released, what actions were taken to stop the leak or that spill, and what actions were taken to clean up.”
Culhane said Hochkammer paid a contractor to pump out manure and to construct berms to keep the flow from getting into Lake Michigan. He said testing done by Manitowoc County so far indicates no contamination has entered the lake.
Concealed Carry Permit Applications Surge
The number of Wisconsinites applying for permits to carry concealed firearms is double what it was last year. Though most are renewing their licenses, concealed carry is becoming more popular overall.
This year nearly 68,000 applications to carry concealed guns have been processed by the state Department of Justice, well beyond what was seen this time last year. Most of that increase comes from citizens renewing their concealed carry licenses, which must be done every five years.
The state law allowing concealed carry passed in 2011. But more than 24,000 new applications have been approved in 2017, which is close to surpassing previous year totals.
In March, state Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, and state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, introduced a bill proposing what is called constitutional carry, which would allow residents to carry concealed firearms without training or state permits. In a statement Felzkowski said it would free up law-abiding gun owners.
“Under this bill, if you are legally allowed to own a handgun, you can carry it concealed — no license, no fees, no government hoops to jump through,” Felzkowski said.
The constitutional carry bill hasn’t gone very far in the state Legislature. It was previously introduced in the 2013-2014 legislative session but didn’t pass. Even for some gun rights proponents, letting people carry concealed weapons without any training goes too far.
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