Controversial Wisconsin DNR secretary leaves post for EPA job
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp is leaving the agency to become deputy administrator in a regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
During Stepp’s six-year tenure at DNR, fines for environmental violations dwindled, and the EPA twice stepped in to spur department action after residents complained of problems like manure-contaminated drinking water.
“Of the seven DNR secretaries I have known, she clearly had the worst record in terms of standing up for protection of natural resources, whether it was water, air, or fish and wildlife,” said George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who now directs the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
In an email to staff and a press release, Stepp cited a department reorganization and “the customer service ethic we watched flourish in our staff” as accomplishments.
Under Stepp, enforcement of environmental violations has declined, vacant staff positions increased and both the EPA and the state audit bureau have pressed the DNR to remedy deficiencies in water quality programs.
When Barack Obama was president, the EPA twice intervened at Stepp’s DNR in response to petitions from Wisconsin citizens and conservation groups over water pollution problems.
“What really worries me is that if the EPA is hiring people like Cathy Stepp, will it do that in our region, too?” Meyer said.
Full-time DNR staffing has declined since the 1990s, including cuts by Democratic Gov.
Stepp, 54, is a Wisconsin native who was highly critical of the DNR when she represented a Racine district in the state Senate from 2003 to 2007, and when she worked as a homebuilder.
Thiede, who holds a UW-Stevens Point degree in wildlife biology, served as a DNR land administrator, customer service supervisor and wildlife manager before Walker appointed him deputy secretary in 2015.