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Cathy Stepp Defends Her Record Before Leaving DNR For EPA

Departing DNR Secretary Ends Jobs Wednesday

Shawn Johnson/WPR

Resigning state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp says she looks forward to bringing ideas implemented in Wisconsin “to the national stage.”

Stepp is leaving to be the regional head of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 7 based in Kansas City. It oversees Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations, but not Wisconsin.

Her last day is Wednesday.

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Stepp has been DNR secretary since 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker took office and appointed her. Walker has appointed Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede to serve as interim secretary effective Thursday.

Walker praised Stepp as a strong, trusted reformer.

The governor said in a statement that Stepp is a “strong, trusted reformer, who will serve the country well at the EPA.” He lauds her for “placing a strong focus on customer service and common sense.”

The secretary recently met with strong public pushback when she tried to end publication of the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. Stepp said the magazine was taking agency employees away from their core duties at the DNR.

Democrats and environmentalists were concerned the true motivation was to silence a publication that promotes science and writes articles on controversial topics such as climate change.

A former DNR secretary said the agency’s outgoing leader will be remembered for “dismantling significant portions of environmental protections in the state of Wisconsin.”

Former DNR Secretary George Meyer said Stepp’s move to the EPA worries him. He said Stepp’s record is the worst of seven DNR secretaries he worked with.

Stepp has also faced criticism from environmentalists and others for the way she has run the DNR. They say Stepp has put natural resources at risk by emphasizing economic development.

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Spokesman Ryan Billingham said members are glad Stepp is leaving the DNR but are concerned about her taking a national role with the EPA.

“Stepp’s tenure at the DNR has been marked by a decline in protections for Wisconsin’s natural resources,” Billingham said. “So, we see her leaving as a good thing, and we’re hopeful that her replacement will have more natural resources management experience than she did.”

But Stepp said in a statement Tuesday that “We’ve demonstrated how we can have job creation and environmental protection.”

Her full statement thanks Walker for his support and says the DNR has “the best leadership team in state government.”

I am deeply grateful to Governor Walker for believing in my abilities when he named me to the post of DNR Secretary over 6 ½ years ago. No one gets to this point in their career without the help and support of many people. It’s impossible to thank them all individually. We have the best leadership team in state government at WIDNR. They will continue to lead the men and women of our agency who give their spirit to their work every day. I am proud of the customer service ethic we watched flourish in our staff, and the communication we have inspired between our agency and our customers. We’ve demonstrated how we can have job creation and environmental protection. I’m excited and humbled at the opportunity to bring many of the reforms we’ve implemented in DNR to the national scene.

Editor’s Note: This story was last updated with original reporting from WPR at 5:10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.