Watch closely who howls loudest in the aftermath of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s reorganization plan.
We can easily predict the major complainers: Environmental “activists,” who are fueled by out-of-state dollars and serve as a chorus of Sierra Club sycophants; deep-pocketed lawyers who make a lucrative living by filing the endless current of frivolous anti-agriculture lawsuits; and publicly paid state bureaucrats, more concerned about pursuing their own personal agendas then enforcing the laws that are on the books.
No government agency is perfect nor do we pretend that the Wisconsin DNR is. But that’s part of what makes Secretary Cathy Stepp’s announcement today so eye-opening: It is so practical and so immediately beneficial to the state’s citizenry, that it “feels” revolutionary. The truth is, most taxpayers simply are not accustomed to common sense solutions.
One such “breakthrough” will reduce the current log jam built into the environmental permitting process that cripples economic growth, does little to actually protect the natural resources and costs countless millions in public dollars.
Qualified experts will write environmental permits, including those governing water pollution discharges from agricultural operations. This will allow a private-sector professional, licensed engineer or agronomist to do his or her job, put the seal of approval on a project without a state employee first attempting to re-do the exact same project with less expertise, minimal time and fewer resources.
Again, while environmentalists will decry this as something akin to the Apocalypse, it would be more accurately categorized as a long-overdue introduction of common sense into the permitting process. Consider: The American Medical Association doesn’t certify every surgery, standing over the shoulders of practitioners during each procedure. The Department of Education doesn’t approve every individual teacher’s lesson plan each semester. Why does it make sense for the DNR to reconstruct projects already studied, researched, envisioned, tested and re-tested by some of the leading minds in their respective fields?
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Stepp, “We’re not talking about changing standards — there are no regulation changes. That really needs to be emphasized here. We are talking about how we meet — or even exceed — expectations that have been put upon us by the public, and other levels of government, and how do we do that in the most efficient way.”
Stepp further noted that, while elected officials and outside groups gave input, many of the reorganization’s ideas came from DNR employees. Agency officials echoed this point, noting that many staffers were relieved because they would now be given more realistic job expectations.
Removing the burden of re-writing permits from the shoulders of DNR staff will allow them to focus on the critical aspects of compliance and enforcement. The DNR still maintains the final authority over every permit and reserves the right to do spot checks.
Other aspects of the plan will impact law enforcement and property management responsibilities as well as reassign the agency’s science staff to specific units.
The DNR’s Mark Aquino, director of the Office of Business Support and External Services, summed it up succinctly, “We want to focus on compliance rather than the paperwork part of the process.”
If that riles up so-called “conservationists,” then they haven’t been paying attention. The DNR is proposing a huge step forward for accountability and common sense. The real winners are the taxpayers of the state and the stakeholders of its bountiful natural resources.