The number of financial penalties imposed in Wisconsin has seen a dramatic drop in recent years, according to a report released Wednesday by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
The group looked at fines collected for violations of state environmental laws during 2015 and found an 86 percent drop from the ten year average. Overall, the WWF claims the state collected just $306,834 last year, down from $1.4 million in 2014. It also reflected the lowest one-year penalty amount since 1986.
Federation president George Meyer, a former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary, noted the reason for the drop remains unclear. “The Federation does not know whether the dramatic decrease in environmental penalty violations is the result of lack of inspections of regulated facilities by the Department of Natural Resources or follow through on discovered violations by that agency or lack of vigor in prosecution of the environmental violations by the Department of Justice but the general public deserves answers,” he said.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman James Dick said the factors used to evaluate cases and determine what action to take have not changed. He added the goal of the agency is to develop effective regulations and increase compliance, while reducing the need for enforcement actions. “DNR and DOJ continue to take environmental enforcement seriously and are committed to addressing violations. Based on continuing improvements in air and water quality in our state, we believe important progress is being made.”
Dick also noted that all DNR Environmental Enforcement Specialist positions are currently filled, while the agency is hiring another specialist and seven investigators to handle criminal and complex civil violations.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the total amount of penalties do not tell the “full story” of how the agency resolves environmental violations. “As a proud supporter of Wisconsin’s sporting heritage and an avid outdoorsman, Attorney General Schimel takes his prosecutorial role seriously and ensures all referrals received by the Wisconsin Department of Justice from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are thoroughly reviewed and DOJ attorneys work diligently to do what’s best for Wisconsin,” the agency’s Johnny Koremenos said in a statement.
UPDATE: This story was updated to include a response from the DNR.