Democrat criticizes DNR secretary on environment

DNR Warden patch

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Latest on state agency budget briefings to the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (all times local):

11:20 a.m.

Democrats on the Legislature's budget committee are accusing Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp of failing to protect the environment.

Stepp appeared before the Republican-controlled committee to answer questions on the agency's portion of Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 state budget.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Stevens Point Democrat, immediately attacked Stepp, asking her why polluter fines have dropped dramatically, why the agency is ignoring the cumulative impacts of high-capacity wells and whether federal officials might strip the agency of its ability to enforce the Clean Water Act amid environmental groups' allegations the agency isn't complying with the act.

Stepp says the DNR is trying to head off pollution violations before they happen and the problem with considering cumulative impact is a lack of definitions. She says the agency has addressed 73 of 75 deficiencies the EPA identified in water regulation and she's confident the DNR will retain its ability to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The committee's co-chairwoman, Sen. Alberta Darling, a River Hills Republican, told Stepp that she thought she was doing a good job.

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11 a.m.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp is defending Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate the agency's magazine in front of the Legislature's budget committee.

Walker's proposed 2017-19 budget calls for eliminating the DNR's Natural Resources magazine. Stepp told the committee during a briefing Thursday that DNR staff are spending time researching and writing articles, taking time from their core duties, and the DNR's digital media efforts reach thousands more people.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Stevens Point Democrat, questioned whether doing away with the magazine has anything to do with trying to mute discussion of climate change. Stepp responded ending the magazine is a business decision.

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8:08 a.m.

The University of Wisconsin, K-12 schools and the Department of Natural Resources will all be in the spotlight as the Legislature's budget-writing committee completes three days of briefings.

The Joint Finance Committee meeting on Thursday comes after a 14-hour marathon Wednesday that saw Republicans on the panel disagreeing sharply with key planks of Gov. Scott Walker's budget.

The final hearing promises to bring more of the same. Lawmakers have already voiced displeasure with Walker's proposal to cut UW tuition 5 percent in the second year of the budget.

And while Walker has won praise for his plan to raise K-12 aid by $649 million, some have questioned where the money would come from and whether it's too much.

Walker's changes to the DNR have also drawn a backlash.

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