Controversial Wis. official to lead Midwest office

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cathy Stepp, a top environmental regulator from Wisconsin who has been criticized by green groups, is joining U.S. EPA.

Stepp, appointed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2011, will be principal deputy regional administrator in EPA’s Region 7 branch, based in Lenexa, Kan.

She will serve as the Midwest office’s acting chief until the agency appoints a regional administrator, EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson told workers in an email obtained by E&E News. Region 7 oversees Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

In his email to EPA staff yesterday, Jackson praised Stepp’s tenure at Wisconsin’s DNR, including her use of “Lean” management techniques that have taken on greater emphasis at the agency under Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“Under Cathy’s leadership, the DNR was the first state agency to apply Lean Government efforts to its organization. With a priority to make the DNR more transparent, she guided efforts to create greater public input for internal processes,” Jackson said.

Stepp is a former state legislator, having served as a Wisconsin state senator for Racine from 2003 to 2007. She was head of the Senate job creation committee and co-chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Stepp also sat on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board for three years when then-Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) asked her to join in 1998.

Controversial tenure

Stepp’s tenure at Wisconsin’s DNR has become controversial, as Walker looked to have the agency take a friendlier approach with business in the state.

Under Stepp’s watch, the agency has sent fewer criminal cases to the state’s attorney general, and its enforcement penalties have dropped, as well (Greenwire, April 4).

In addition, Stepp faced criticism over her reorganization plan at the agency that would have outside consultants draft environmental permits (Greenwire, Dec. 6, 2016).

Wisconsin’s DNR under Stepp also stripped language from its website that said human activities leading to more greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of climate change (Greenwire, Jan. 10).

Environmental groups are not happy with Stepp’s appointment to EPA. In a statement, Bill Davis, chapter director of Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin, said she favored “polluting industries” over the people of the state.

“We can only guess what this next step in her ‘leadership’ will mean for Region 7, but we know it won’t be good,” Davis said.

Other hires

Jackson noted that Trey Glenn, a business consultant and former director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, started at EPA on Monday as administrator for the agency’s Region 4 office. Regional leaders do not require Senate confirmation.

Further, Jackson said in his email that Susan Bodine, President Trump’s nominee for enforcement chief, has officially joined the agency. She will start on Sept. 5 as special counsel to the administrator on enforcement.

Bodine, chief counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, saw her nomination move through the panel in July but is still waiting for a confirmation vote in the full chamber.

Larry Starfield will remain EPA’s acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance until the Senate moves on Bodine.