Why did Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R) protect a polluter instead of his constituents?

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.

On Friday afternoon, WisPolitics.com published a press release from Scott Michalak, the Democrat running against Joel Kleefisch in Assembly District 38 (map). From the press release:

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?)

Said Michalak:

“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.


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27 thoughts on “Why did Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R) protect a polluter instead of his constituents?

  1. Thanks Muxy.

    HUMAN waste? From septic tanks? That sounds to me as though it’s in a highly concentrated form. I’m interested in what processes it went through before they applied it.

    I’m not a biologist, but afaik, that’s a text book way to spread disease.

    1. Yep, HUMAN waste. From the Daily Union:

      “Outrage over the allegations against Herr Environmental was sparked by a May 6 Wisconsin State Journal report that Governor Scott Walker’s chief environmental appointees put as many as 40 families at risk of drinking water contaminated with human waste to help a political donor.

      According to the staff memorandum requesting referral to the Justice Department, Herr Environmental’s records showed the company might have spread more than 15 million pounds of untreated sewage on farmfields near the homes in Jefferson County near Concord in 2009. It was three times the levels allowed by its permit.

      The fields are adjacent to about 30 residences in a rural Jefferson County subdivision, as well as five neighboring farms. About 40 drinking water wells are nearby, according to DNR documents.

      Recent Wisconsin studies have shown sewage spreading can lead to human viruses and Hepatitis in drinking water and diarrhea for those living near septic tanks.”

      Link: http://dailyunion.com/Main.asp?SectionID=36&SubSectionID=110&ArticleID=11752

      I don’t know why this hasn’t gotten more press…

    2. Hey John, what do you think Barrett is flushing into Lake Michigan, rainbows and lollipops?

        1. Because that’s the only other option, John? Seems like Mr. Barrett thought there was a better way, based on his criticisms when originally running for mayor 8 years ago. So how about enough with the name calling and let me know the difference between acceptable human waste and unacceptable human waste.

          1. Unacceptable human waste = anyone who can’t figure out that neither the Town of Concord nor Oconomowoc is anywhere near Lake Michigan.

      1. FMSN, is Tom Barrett personally flushing waste into Lake Michigan?

        Further, why is your angst directed at Mayor Barrett and not at the MMSD Commission, which bears ultimate responsibility for the operation of the MMSD?

        And why are you trying to change the subject to Mayor Barrett instead of sharing your opinion of Rep. Kleefisch going to bat for a polluter over his constituents?

        1. I am merely pointing out the selective outrage. My angst was directed at Barrett because he was outraged enough to make it a campaign issue as a candidate, but then didn’t solve the problem after 8 years. Barrett appoints members to the MMSD board and could influence it as such.

          1. Since you brought up “selective outrage,” and a frequent Sykes’ rant, please, by all means, tell us what you want Barrett/MMSD to take to stop the effect of putting too much carbon in the atmosphere.

            “Climate Study: Extreme Rain Storms in Midwest Have Doubled in Last 50 Years, Often Leading to Worsened Flooding
            Report Details Major Storm/Flooding Trends in 8 States: IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, OH and WI; Midwest Illustrates Growing Concerns About Climate Link Between Big Storms and Flooding.”


            1. Hahahahaha! Oh you have GOT to be kidding me. Global warming, er CLIMATE CHANGE, is to blame? Really? Give me a break! Hahaha that’s a good one.

              Did the carbon levels change that drastically since 2004 when Barrett blamed his opponent Marvin Pratt? He blamed Pratt, not the global climate then!

              To Zach: It seems to me, if Barrett promised to fix it and did nothing, letting it continue to happen, that is borderline INTENTIONAL in that case too.

              1. For those following at home, here’s what you just saw:

                FMSN goes there. When he gets there, is confronted by the intellectual vacuity of his deflection. Realizing he painted himself into a corner, escapes through a poorly disguised wave of the hand.

                The work of an expert. Well done!

          2. I think the INTENTIONAL dumping of human waste onto fields where it could ultimately have a significant impact on wells providing drinking water (and then the subsequent efforts by lawmakers and administrators to basically not hold the company responsible) is far more outrageous.

  2. It’s absolutely disgusting that a state legislator would protect a firm that polluted the drinking water of his constituents simply because the owners of that firm were also his campaign contributors.

  3. Scott Michalak will make a great State Assemblyman for the citizens, voters, and taxpayers of Wisconsin’s Assembly District 38.

    Joel Kleefisch is morally bankrupt.

  4. Methane digesters take waste and turn it into electricity. Apple’s already doing this in North Carolina with cow manure.


    You’re still release carbon into the atmosphere, but that’s a lot lethal than the methane.

    Pyrolysis, high temperature treatment without oxygen (anaerobic) can yield biofuels. If you can get that thermal energy from green sources, it looks like a technology worth exploring.


  5. There was more coverage than you’d think on this, even in the Journal Sentinel, before the recall. Walker appointee Cathy Stepp was involved in this ‘negotiation’ as well, if I remember correctly, and I don’t know why this didn’t become more of a campaign issue. I’ve wondered what the recall vote percentages were for this area.

  6. Republicans are wholly owned by Corporate Interests. (as are “Pro-Business” Democrats) It is preceisely his job to vote to elimiante the Clean Water Act on 1972, to protect and hide the destruction done by poluting big business and to sell off public lands to private owners.

  7. I hope people will start to wake up and realize that situations like this are the end result of electing Republicans who don’t care about pesky things like environmental protection and holding misbehaving companies accountable. I’d say Joel Kleefisch should be ashamed of himself, but I’ve come to realize he has no shame – and no moral compass.

  8. Politics aside, those neighboring residents need to get together and pursue a class action lawsuit. They should test their own water, and save the receipts, as well as any cost to procure safe drinking water. Once they’ve become that organized, political action is the next step. They can name the DNR lackey in the suit as well – I’m not so sure they have a cause of action against Kleefisch, except at the polls.

    Stop being outraged – and stop being victims. Take action.

    I’ve always said, Scott Walker has created lots of jobs … lawyer jobs.

  9. Suzy, agree. The perceived value of their property has already been injured.

    7th Amendment: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

    Forming a committee to explore the legal remedies might be a good place to start.

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