How would you feel if your drinking water was contaminated with human waste so your representative’s big political donor could increase his profit margins? Would you like it if your representative put a polluter’s need for acquisition of wealth ahead of your need for clean drinking water? For many residents of Assembly District 38, these are not rhetorical questions, they’re real.
An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal found that Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) quietly lobbied the DNR for leniency for a campaign contributor that dumped human waste near drinking water wells.
Understandably, many area residents are upset.
“Out on doors I heard a theme from voters: What the heck are they thinking in Madison?” stated Michalak. “Their questions were simple, but blunt: Is my drinking water clean after Herr Environmental dumped human waste in our neighborhood? Why isn’t Herr Environmental paying to test my well? How did Herr Environmental get such a light punishment from the DNR? And why did Joel Kleefisch stand up for polluters instead of me?”
Indeed, according to the report by Ron Seely of the Wisconsin State Journal, DNR records show that “Herr Environmental was treating fields with so much human waste from septic tanks it risked poisoning nearby wells…”
And even though DNR staff had recommended the case be sent to the DOJ, “which could have fined Herr Environmental tens of thousands of dollars,” Scott Gunderson, DNR appointee and former Republican representative, who himself received campaign contributions from Herr in the past, kept the investigation internal. (Gunderson said he “forgot” he was given money by the Herr company’s owner, Richard Herr.)
There’s a reason the case should have been handled by the DOJ and not internally: it was, and is, a very big deal. DNR staff records show that in 2009 Herr Environmental may have dumped three times the permitted amount of human waste on Jefferson County farm fields, which could harm public health by potentially increasing nitrates in wells.
In fact, Seely reported that according to wastewater specialist David Bolha, “elevated nitrates levels can cause a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants called blue-baby syndrome,” among other health issues.
But instead of standing up for the constituents he was elected to serve and demanding a DOJ investigation with real consequences, it seems that Rep. Joel Kleefisch stood behind Herr Environmental. (Joel Kleefisch and his wife, Rebecca Kleefisch, have taken campaign donations from the Herr family in the past. Maybe they don’t remember getting donations, either?)
“Rep. Kleefisch doesn’t need to answer my questions; he needs to answer the questions of the good people of our district,” said Michalak. “The fact that he’s putting the interests of a campaign contributor ahead of constituents is sleazy and wrong. These people deserve answers from their representative in Madison.”
“It’s disgusting that spreading human waste has drawn such light punishment from the DNR, which is charged with protecting our natural resources. But for Rep. Kleefisch to stand up for polluters and not have the guts to answer these questions is reprehensible.”
I’ll await Representative Kleefisch’s response along with my friends and family in Assembly District 38.