With Sec. Cathy Stepp Out George Meyer Sees New Hope For DNR

Home » Here & Now » With Sec. Cathy Stepp Out George Meyer Sees New Hope For DNR
Premiere Date: 
September 1, 2017

With Sec. Cathy Stepp Out George Meyer Sees New Hope For DNR

In the wake of Cathy Stepp's departure as the head of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, we speak with someone who has held the position before. Former secretary George Meyer claims that Stepp has "the worst record" of the seven secretaries he has known. He revisits this statement and describes changes he hopes to see in Stepp's replacement.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

Now a look ahead to what's in store for the State Department of Natural Resources as current Secretary Cathy Stepp leaves to take a regional director position for the EPA. For that we turn to former DNR Secretary and now executive director at the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation George Meyer. Thanks for being here.

George Meyer:

Thank you for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

First it occurs to me I should ask you whether or not you were surprised Cathy Stepp was moving up to the EPA?

George Meyer:

Well, I wasn't surprised she was leaving the agency. There's been a rumor to that effect for some time. The fact that she's moving up to that position, we hadn't heard about that. So it was something we had not anticipated.

Frederica Freyberg:

As for her legacy, you are quoted as saying this. I can very easily say that Secretary Stepp had the worst record of the seven DNR secretaries I have known in terms of protection of the environment. How so?

George Meyer:

Well, I’m not one to -- that is prone to hyperbole, but her record in terms of the other seven secretaries that I've known or worked for, she was not proactive on any significant environmental issues. And there were issues that would have been easy for any other secretary to jump -- and would have jumped up and tackled. We have the groundwater situation in Kewaunee County, where you know, half the wells in some townships are so polluted they can't be used. And it took local citizens and some of the state environmental groups to petition EPA to come in and get DNR ordered to fix that situation. The slowness in working with the chronic wasting disease situation in the deer herds. Those are just some of the things that other secretaries would have been far more proactive on.

Frederica Freyberg:

Were there some changes within the agency that you regard as positive?

George Meyer:

Well, there's one situation recently where I think she did step up. You know, Representative Adam Jarkle from northwest Wisconsin was going to split the agency into five agencies. And she came out and opposed that. We supported her on that. She did have cutbacks in positions. Unfortunately she advocated for some of those. She came up with a realignment that, by and large, is going to help the situation. So there were some of those things. But on environmental policy and implementation, not so much.

Frederica Freyberg:

As for the easing of regulations for the Foxconn development, what's your position on that?

George Meyer:

Well, our wildlife federation hasn't taken a position. Our plate is so full. We're always concerned when in fact you have regulations eased even for a project that can provide a great deal of economic development. As an example, you know, I was secretary during 1990s. We had a very reasonable and strong environmental programs in the state and the economy grew under Governor Thompson. So you can have both. What I worry about Foxconn is much more than just what's going to happen on site. You already see organizations such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and some state representatives say if it's good enough for Foxconn, let's do it statewide. I worry about the precedent of that decision.

Frederica Freyberg:

How lasting do you suppose that Cathy Stepp's kind of open for business legacy will be on Wisconsin?

George Meyer:

Well, you know, she was responding to the call from several legislators and obviously the governor on this. And I think it's going to be up to those entities, the governor and legislature, to understand that the long-term impacts of weakening environmental protection is not good for the environment of the state, not good for the citizens, but most importantly not for the economy of the state.

Frederica Freyberg:

What will you be looking for from the new secretary of the DNR?

George Meyer:

Well, we surely want somebody that has a background in conservation or environmental management. Doesn't have to be somebody from the agency. But someone that understands the science and practicalities of environmental management. We'd also like somebody that's proactive and understands and is not afraid to raise their concerns publicly that in fact there's a problem that needs addressing. We understand that the secretary doesn't make all decisions. The governor does. Legislature sets policy. But those people need to hear from a secretary that's willing to say if you're go in that direction, this is what's going to happen and that's not good for the environment, not good for the economy.

Frederica Freyberg:

Meanwhile next week there is to be a legislative public hearing on a bill that would repeal the mining moratorium. What do you think of that?

George Meyer:

Well, it changes several things in terms of non-iron mining, non-ferrous mining. The bill is substantially different than the bill that was adopted a few years ago regarding iron mining. It has some provisions that the Wildlife Federation is concerned about. But many of the provisions seem reasonable updating in the law. And our organization is going to be trying to work out some of the challenging parts of the bill. But basically it is not nearly as bad a bill as the iron mining bill was that passed the legislature.

Frederica Freyberg:

And in fact you've suggested that there are some prongs of this new bill that take from a substitute bill that you helped work on in the last round.

George Meyer:

That’s right. During the iron mining bill, Senator Cullen, Senator Schultz asked some representatives of the mining industry, Tim Sullivan who was with Bucyrus and myself and some engineers from the mining company, and we came up with a compromise bill. Several of those portions of that bill are in this bill. And that's encouraging.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. George Meyer, thanks very much.

George Meyer:

Thank you for having me.

Share this page

Have questions, comments, or story ideas?


WisContext

WisContext serves the residents of Wisconsin, providing information and insight into issues as they affect the state.