Key environmental group worries about “lax enforcement”
The former head of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Cathy Stepp, was named this week to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 office in Chicago.
The office is responsible for Great Lakes programs and Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Region 5’s most publicly visible work is overseeing the $300 million annual Great Lakes restoration initiative which President Trump tried to cut from the 2018 budget. Congress is working to restore the funding.
Stepp ran the Wisconsin DNR from 2011 through August of 2017 when she left to take a senior position in the EPA’s office in Kansas. Previously she served as a Wisconsin State Senator and was a small business owner.
In announcing the appointment EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “Cathy Stepp’s experience working as a statewide cabinet official, elected official, and small business owner will bring a fresh perspective to EPA as we look to implement President Trump’s agenda.”
Praise for Stepp came from Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler who said she is a “a strong leader with proven state experience. She knows how to get things done and I look forward to working closely with her.”
Ohio and Lake Erie will be one of Stepp’s challenges.
It continues to struggle with toxic algae problems like the one that caused the 2014 Toledo water crisis. Lake Erie is the only Great Lake officially designated in “poor and deteriorating condition.”
And Flint will be on Stepp’s agenda as EPA has oversight responsibility for the city’s ongoing recovery.
In addition to Flint, Stepp will also now have to deal with longstanding urban issues that weren’t as prevalent in Wisconsin. That concerns the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Josh Mogerman who is NRDC’s National Media director.
“Stepp fits the Trump-Pruitt EPA which is all about lax enforcement,” Mogerman told Great Lakes Now.
“She’ll be dealing with toxic problems in areas like Chicago’s Southeast Side and in Northwest Indiana where people’s lives are literally in the balance. We hope Stepp is up to the task but her track record says maybe not,” Mogerman said.
When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker put Stepp in charge of the DNR he said he wanted someone with a “Chamber of Commerce mentality,” presumably to facilitate Walker’s business-friendly agenda.
Stepp had been a frequent critic of the agency she is about to lead. That’s similar to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s stance where as Oklahoma’s Attorney General he sued the U.S. EPA 14 times.
Stepp replaces acting administrator Robert Kaplan, a holdover from the Obama administration.