Walker Campaign Donor’s Project Gets Another Nod From DNR

May 8, 2015

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) revised a state permit to allow a railroad, whose employees have given Republican Gov. Scott Walker more than $61,000 in campaign contributions, to expand its lines for controversial crude oil shipments through the city of La Crosse.

The DNR action earlier this month allows the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to add rail lines through the La Crosse River Marsh. The railroad’s original wetland permit, which was granted in March, initially allowed the railroad to fill about seven acres of the marsh and build a bridge for the new tracks.

A local group called Citizens Acting for Rail Safety and Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based public interest law firm, which challenged the original permit, said the DNR’s latest action removed a condition in the permit that required the railroad to protect endangered Black Terns, which will be nesting in the marsh while the rail lines are being expanded. The law firm also contends the DNR did not adequately alert the public and give it a chance to weigh in on the permit changes.

Walker received $45,000 between January 2010 and December 2014, from Burlington Northern’s political action committee and $16,070 in individual contributions from the railroad’s executives. The top Burlington Northern individual contributors to Walker were Paul Nowicki and Nicole Herbst, both of Chicago, Ill. at $5,000 each; and Mathew Rose, of Westlake, Tex. at $2,500.

Walker’s DNR has been criticized in recent years by environmental advocates for lax enforcement of environmental laws and being too friendly to business and other special interests it is in charge of regulating.

There has been more focus on crude oil rail shipments in recent months because of the damage done earlier this year by train derailments in North Dakota, Illinois, and West Virginia.