• Rebecca Katers

    Excellent investigative series … Thank you!

    We need much more public oversight and input on this issue. Too many decisions about brownfields are handled behind closed doors, at high risk of political interference.

    Please continue digging into the details of how sites are “cleaned up.” I guarantee you’ll find more than dirt.

    Who sets the STANDARDS for these clean-ups? Who gets appointed to the DNR’s “Technical Advisory Committees” and “Citizen Advisory Committees” during the crucial rule-making processes? How and why are members chosen. Who chooses them? Are the appointees all advocates for strong measures that fully protect the health of all Wisconsin residents from toxic exposures, or will they protect only 90% of us … or 70% of us?

    How are decisions made on those DNR committees … by majority rule (when the majority of appointees represent the interests to be regulated), or by rigged “consensus” (when the token environmentalist or citizen member is ignored and members in the “middle” feel forced to drastically compromise to achieve anything at all)?

    How often do politicians in Wisconsin’s Legislature and the Governor’s Office follow technical recommendations of DNR experts or the toxicologists in the state’s health department? How often do state lawmakers ignore credible scientific advice … compromising Wisconsin’s public health protection standards (or blocking standards entirely) in order to appease the lawyers, lobbyists and hired-gun consultants sent by private individuals and special interests?

    How often are campaign contributions linked to DNR standard-setting and specific brownfield site decisions?

    In 1995, when Tommy Thompson gutted the power of the citizen-based Natural Resources Board, he turned the DNR Secretary into a political pawn of the Governor. Politics always influenced DNR decisions to some extent; but since 1995, the DNR has been dominated by powerful special interests.

    Also, if Republicans prevail in their appeal and state employees lose union protection, few DNR employees will feel safe saying or doing ANYTHING significant without political approval. If the Republicans succeed, DNR employees will keep their jobs only if they don’t make waves. Any science-based DNR employee recommendations to strengthen toxic chemical standards or require better clean-ups will be smothered and buried at birth, “remediated” more thoroughly than any brownfield.

    I sincerely doubt that public health has been fully and permanently protected at most Wisconsin brownfield “clean-ups.” In too many cases, toxic chemicals are just covered temporarily with inadequate layers of soil or pavement … or only SOME of it is removed, leaving sites with risky chemical residues defined as “safe enough” by Wisconsin politicians.

    Hundreds of dangerous Wisconsin brownfields have been identified, studied, and discussed for DECADES without action, because the public is unaware and too many politicians are invertebrates, too self-serving to give the DNR and state health departments the legal tools and staff needed to REQUIRE immediate clean-ups.

    Public health protection is not a political priority in Wisconsin.