The numbers don’t lie. In the years that Governor Walker has been in office, enforcement actions – the unofficial warning against illegal polluters – have dropped from an average of 516 notices per year to just 233. That’s a 55% decline. As if that weren’t bad enough, many polluters who are caught are getting off scot-free without having to pay penalties. In fact, there has been an astounding 68% drop in the number of pollution cases referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
Why are polluters let off the hook? The Walker Administration has left the DNR horribly understaffed at a time when the organization is busier than ever trying to monitor the surge in frac sand mines. In the spring of 2012, DNR staff identified the need for 10 staff to handle the state’s 54 frac sand mines. But Governor Walker’s appointed DNR Secretary formally requested just two positions. And by the time those positions were approved, the number of frac sand mining companies in the state more than doubled!(1)
Polluters are reveling in the lack of accountability. In Walker’s Wisconsin, our air quality, our clean water, and our health play second fiddle to the whims of mining companies, leaving Wisconsinites exposed to dirty water, polluted air, and even cancer-causing chemicals.(2)
These stories speak for themselves: in Governor Walker’s Wisconsin, big frac comes first!
Hold on to your hats, folks, because this one made us – and the Wisconsin press – do a double take. We were pretty confused when Governor Walker praised Hi-Crush Proppants when he visited their facility in Trempealeau County. He touted them for “maintaining a positive relationship with the Wisconsin communities surrounding their facility.” He even continued on to say, “We can balance our strong commitment to maintaining clean water, clean land, and clean air with an operation investing in Wisconsin.”(3)
Did he forget about Hi-Crush’s major water heist? The facility paid $52,000 in penalties for operating two high-capacity wells on its site without state permits and operating one well at a higher pumping rate than the permit allows, using more than their share and depleting our water resources.(4)
Not only did Governor Walker praise the water stealing company, the Department of Justice failed to publicly report on the fines. If that smells fishy to you, you’re right. Oh, and one more thing – the company’s executives donated $10,000 to the Walker campaign.(5) Go figure.
What are citizens to do when their governor stops doing his job of protecting public health and safety? One school superintendent found himself scrambling to do Governor Walker’s job by safeguarding his students from the air pollution of nearby frac sand mines. Silica dust, a byproduct of mining, is known for causing silicosis – an incurable lung disorder – as well as cancer and lung scarring.(6) So New Auburn school officials were understandably concerned when the scary substance showed up in the school’s air filters. It fell on the school’s superintendent to purchase higher quality air filters to prevent children from breathing in carcinogens. Schools sadly paid double the price of normal filters, costing $1,500/year!(7) Because of low air quality standards, schools were forced to allocate education funds to ensure basic safety.
Although Governor Walker rejected the $800 million in federal funds for high-speed rail, rail transportation has been skyrocketing for frac sand. But while Governor Walker is eager to ship our sand out of the state as quickly as possible, he has been less zealous about ensuring that the transportation is done safely. Once quiet neighborhoods are now inundated with the chugging of loud freight trains tearing down tracks that are suddenly seeing action after decades of neglect, and concerns abound that it’s just a matter of time before we’re faced with increased car-train collisions.(8)
Meanwhile, Governor Walker’s budget has been generous to private rail companies used to transport fuel commodities such as frac sand. In his first 100 days in office, he announced grants to allocate millions of taxpayer dollars to infrastructure upgrades for private rail lines, including buying 50 miles of railroad tracks for the private lines to operate. Wisconsin and Southern Railroad stood to gain up to $60 million from Governor Walker’s budget.
But in an all-too-familiar story, the president and CEO of Wisconsin and Southern Railroad plead guilty to two felony counts for funneling illegal campaign contributions to Governor Walker. Once again, we see that in Walker’s Wisconsin, it pays to be a campaign donor.
Greenwashing Frac Sand
The two-year-old mining company – ironically named Smart Sand – was slapped with a Notice of Violation in 2012 for failing to comply with Wisconsin air pollution control standards when they constructed their facility.(9) Which is why we were so surprised when the company applied for the DNR’s Green Tier program – a special recognition meant to reward companies that have well-developed environmental management plans with a history of positive results.
Calling Smart Sand eco-friendly is greenwashing, and a slap in the face to the folks whose air, land, and water are endangered every day by the frac sand free-for-all that has run roughshod over Wisconsin under Governor Walker.
Conservation voters across the state agreed – our government should be protecting us from polluters, not rewarding them! A record-setting 1,900+ of you sent letters to the DNR urging them to reconsider.
Yet Governor Walker’s DNR appointee, Secretary Cathy Stepp, approved Smart Sand for the Green Tier program.
Oh, and did we mention that Smart Sand’s Pennsylvania executives donated $4,000 to the governor’s campaign?(10)
In Walker’s Wisconsin, a polluter can break the law, endanger people’s health, and be rewarded. Outrageous.