By Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel
Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp says the agency can play a key role in Wisconsin’s economic revival without sacrificing environmental protection.
It’s a point she is trying to emphasize in her early days on the job: The DNR’s approach to regulation can be tweaked to be less burdensome, and in so doing, the agency can help companies increase employment.
But Stepp is also finding herself mending fences over criticisms she’s made of the sprawling 2,200-person agency, and her close relations with business groups.
In 2009, on conservative blog Real Debate Wisconsin, Stepp derided DNR employees as tending to be “anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, karner blue butterflies etc. . . . ”
“This is their nature, their make-up and DNA. So since they’re unelected bureaucrats who have only their cubicle walls to bounce ideas off of, they tend to come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with.”
The comments – and Stepp’s pro-business record as a Republican state senator from Racine County – have riled many employees and the state’s environmental community.
A former homebuilder, Stepp has met with hundreds of DNR employees and traveled to offices across the state to defuse a potentially combustible situation. She started the meetings on Dec. 29 – the day her appointment was announced, and six days before Gov. Scott Walker took office.
Next, she plans to meet with business organizations, chambers of commerce and environmental organizations
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric,” Stepp said. “(Employees) are reading a lot of things and I think it’s scaring them.”
But Stepp also isn’t backing down.