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DNR Will Step Back From Writing Large Farm Permits

Environmentalists Remain Unsure About Agency Realignment


The head of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources says an agency realignment plan that could give greater input to the private sector would help the environment.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp rolled out the much delayed reorganization plan at town hall meetings Wednesday with DNR employees. One section of the plan that drew immediate attention calls for the agency to take a less active initial role on environmental permits, including those for large livestock operations.

Instead, the agency would focus on reviewing the technical information in permit applications put together by qualified industry-hired consultants.Stepp said it’s a better use of her staff’s time. “Just approving what it is that they submit, versus us writing how it is they should meet the regulation. It will really take a huge burden off our staff, and that’s good for our environment,” Stepp said.

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The agency said the change would hopefully reduce back-and-forth between farmers and DNR staff on application revisions, freeing up staff to perform more frequent field compliance checks.

But conservation groups like the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation are potentially concerned. The Federation’s George Meyer said if the DNR needs more staff to handle environmental permits, state lawmakers should allow the agency to raise permit fees.

Stepp said the DNR would have a better chance for adding employees if it can show state lawmakers and the governor the agency has prioritized its highest needs.

A state audit in June found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large farms and wastewater treatment plants and the agency had been extending permits without review for years.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story from the Associated Press was corrected to reflect the DNR’s plan would allow farms to hire consultants to create their permit applications, not write permits.