Wisconsin’s Rep. Hebl airs frustrations over DNR’s refusal to comment on proposed legislative bills

State Rep. Gary Hebl was not happy that the DNR will not take a position on legislative bills. (Photo by Tim Eisele)

State Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, was right on the money.

The Assembly Committee on Environment and Forestry held a public hearing at the State Capitol Nov. 28 on a bill that would prohibit the DNR from reversing its rulings on whether or not a stream is navigable.

The committee took testimony from the author on reasons for proposing the bill. Then the committee members had the chance to ask questions.

When a bill involves natural resources, the DNR has an opportunity to testify on the natural resources consequences of the bill. During previous administrations, the DNR would take a position on a bill, saying why it was for or against the proposal due to its effect on natural resources.

With Gov. Scott Walker and previous DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the DNR has been muted and not allowed to take a position on any bill.

Hebl was trying to find out the DNR’s position on the bill and asked DNR representatives Connie Antonuk and Michael Kowalkowski whether the DNR was in favor or against the bill. When they refused to take a stand, saying they were testifying for information only, Hebl couldn’t withhold his frustration.

“You (the DNR) are my experts,” he said. “I depend on you. You’ve got the scientists and natural resources history yet you won’t tell me if a bill is good or bad.”

Hebl’s frustrations echoes that of everyone who has wondered why the agency that citizen’s pay to protect the state’s natural resources won’t use its expertise to weigh in on proposed legislation.

It’s time for DNR to open its mouth and give the citizens of Wisconsin what they’ve been paying for, rather than just allowing politicians to spout off that the state can have jobs and a clean environment while gutting the state’s environmental regulations.

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