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Petitioners ask Stepp to recuse herself from ongoing water pollution program review

Feb 01, 2018

Today Midwest Environmental Advocates and Petitioners asked EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp to recuse herself from the ongoing review of the Petition for Corrective Action in Wisconsin.

In a response to media, an EPA spokesperson said that Stepp had previously consulted with EPA's ethics council and recused herself. Though MEA staff, on behalf of the Petitioners, have regularly consulted with the EPA regarding the progress of the Petition, no public notification was issued regarding Stepp's recusal until today.

In 2015, sixteen Wisconsin residents filed a Petition with the EPA to ask for a formal review of Clean Water Act pollution permitting in the state. Stepp had decision-making authority over the Petition during her time as the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The Clean Water Act envisions a meaningful, impartial balance of power between the federal and state government, but this balance would be endangered unless Stepp recused herself from the process now that she leads the EPA office Wisconsinites turned to for help.

Petitioner and DNR retiree Dave Marshall is a longtime protector of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. He stated: “Ms. Stepp . . . pollution was allowed to occur under your watch while you served as DNR Secretary, and this disqualifies you to represent EPA in responding to the Petition.”

The statewide Petitioner group highlights that the need for safe, healthy water transcends political and urban/rural boundaries. Petitioner and Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn stated that "a majority of Milwaukee's rivers are impaired by polluted runoff and aren't clean enough for swimming, fishing, and drinking. It's important that EPA gets DNR back on track with effectively implementing and enforcing the Clean Water Act so that we can achieve cleaner waters and healthier communities.”

With the news of this recusal, Wisconsinites may still be able to have a continued, impartial federal review of our state's WPDES program.

Read the full letter to the EPA.

The recusal request was covered in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The State Journal had an update with comments from the EPA Region 5 office.

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