MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers’ newly appointed secretary of natural resources released a message Wednesday saying the legislature needs to “step up” to help protect the state’s waters and catch up with progress other states are making.
Adam Payne made his first public appearance on Wednesday before the Natural Resources Committee, which sets policy for the agency.
In a lengthy speech, he highlighted his statewide priorities for conservation and clean water and encouraged the board to make decisions about the state’s natural resources free of political influence.
Payne said Wisconsin should be leading on clean water issues, not lagging behind other nearby states on PFAS management and mitigation, as it has done.
“We’re going to need the legislature to step up and work with us to make sure we have the capacity to help local governments, individuals and families,” he said. “If they don’t, how do we test, how do we monitor?”
He emphasized the importance of safe drinking water and highlighted the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday night, in which he listed PFAS as one of his top priorities to address and pledged more than $100 million in funding.
“I don’t think the water quality issue for natural resource conservation is a partisan issue. I don’t think it should be a partisan issue. I think everyone in this state should expect to be able to turn on the tap and have access to clean, safe water. It’s a public health issue, “He said.
“We want people to move to Wisconsin, raise their families here, start their businesses here, grow their businesses here, grow their farms here, whatever it is. We have to have clean water, and it shouldn’t be partisan.”
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He also appeared to address tensions between the board and staff over the past few years that culminated in the cancellation of a September 2021 meeting, an action the board had not taken in 21 years. The board also addressed a controversy over member Frederick Prehn’s refusal to resign nearly two years after his term expired.
“We have different roles. We have similar goals,” he said. “It’s an important job, communicating and collaborating effectively, making sure you have the information you need to make informed decisions. That doesn’t mean you can’t challenge staff or ask for more information. But we have to work together.”
Former board chair: ‘We are responsible to the public, not the environment’
The Board of Directors has elected a new list of officers. Assemblyman Bill Smith was elected Chair, Marcy West was elected Vice Chair, and Sharon Adams was elected Secretary. The election took place at the end of the session, without the fanfare or tension of previous years.
Outgoing Chairman Greg Kazmierski, whose term ends later this year, offered advice to newly elected leaders and newly installed members. Members should not be influenced by lobbyists or rely on election results, he said.
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He said while everyone wanted clean water, the board had to find a balance in its decisions about water and ensure the solutions were affordable.
“I think it’s very important for the board to understand that we are accountable to the public, not to the environment, to natural resources, that we are accountable to the public,” he said. direction.”
New board members Sandra Dee Naas and Paul Buhr took a seat on the board to vote and question staff on a range of issues, including deer hunting and the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program.
Wednesday’s meeting was the board’s first since Prehn stepped down in late December. Prehn held on to his seat for almost two years, denying Naas the chance to take the seat as a voting member.
For two years, Prehn retained his seat, a decision upheld by the state Supreme Court last year, and the board was rife with political differences between Evers appointees and former Gov. Scott Walker appointees, including Prehn.
Nurse said she’s gained valuable knowledge from audiences over the past few years, but she’s ready to work on the board.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how I can help advance Wisconsin’s natural resources for the benefit of the people of the state,” she said in an interview. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve.”
Nass said she has yet to hear from Senate members about her confirmation hearing, which she has been awaiting since May 2021.
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Dairy farmer Buhr from Viroqua also made his debut on Wednesday after being named to the seat previously held by William Bruins, who Resigned from the board in December last year before the end of his term.
Bruins did not say in a message to the Ministry of Natural Resources why he resigned before the end of his term.
“Every farmer wants clean water and the ability to farm, and I want to represent that,” he said in an interview. “I’m very happy to be doing this.”
Buhr grew up working with cows, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a degree in Animal Science, and then owned his own farm for 45 years. His last herd was dispersed about two years ago, and he now tends corn, soybean and hay fields.
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He said he hopes to translate his experience as a farmer into informed decisions, such as managing nutrients produced on farms that can enter drinking water and cause problems for residents, such as phosphorus and nitrates. He also helps raise awareness of the No Raft Zone and advocates for the protection of this unique area.
“I’m more than happy to encourage more development of parks and recreation, trails in this part of the state,” he said.
Bull also wants to see the board resume its status as a non-political entity focused on protecting the state’s land, air and water.
“I want all of my decisions to be based on facts and to draw sound inferences from those facts, and I want us to work with and earn the respect of all groups that come before us in a fair way,” he said. “Politics will not affect my decision. Everyone who lives in this state wants clean water and air.”
Laura Schulte can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Schulte Laura.