Firefighting foam is a common source of PFAS pollution. (Shutterstock)
Firefighting foam is a common source of PFAS pollution. (Shutterstock)

George Meyer blames the state’s major business lobby for encouraging a member to stay past his term as a way to fight PFAS standards.

A rogue board member who’s overstayed his term. A lack of regulation leading to unsafe drinking water and a massacre of gray wolves. A right-wing political group and Wisconsin’s largest business lobby.

A former head of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) alleges they’re all connected to a coordinated effort to undermine and ultimately unseat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in this year’s gubernatorial election and maintain conservative power to block or weaken rules for water, hunting, and other environmental concerns.

George Meyer, who served as DNR secretary from 1993 to 2002, said he finds it “troubling that there is collusion going on” between the Republican-controlled state Senate, right-wing organizations, and Natural Resources Board member Fred Prehn, an appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker who refuses to leave his seat even though his term expired in May 2021. 

Prehn has said he will not give way to Sandra Dee Nass, an appointee of Gov. Tony Evers, until the state Senate confirms Nass. But Republicans who control the Senate continue to sit on the appointments of numerous Evers’ nominees, even three years into Evers’ term.

Prehn’s continued presence on the board has paved the way for conservative, big-business supported policies to continue even under a gubernatorial administration opposed to such measures.

“The way the system is set up is that when a governor comes in, over the period of four years, he’ll have sufficient numbers of the Natural Resources Board to carry out the policies that that person ran for governor on,” said Meyer on the Up North Podcast. “It’s the will of the people that’s being thwarted. I would say this whether it was a Democrat or a Republican.”

“But there’s more to it,” Meyer said, than partisan politics. “Follow the money.”

Meyer said Prehn, a Wausau dentist, has been communicating with two groups: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state’s major business lobby, and Hunter Nation, a group supported by Republican politicians, donors, and lobbyists that has been behind several bills to expand the number of animals that can be hunted and to remove certain environmental regulations. 

Investigative work by the Wisconsin Examiner shows it to be a group made up of multiple parts designed to make it difficult to track spending on political advocacy. The group, along with the right-wing legal firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), successfully sued to force a wolf hunt one year ago that killed nearly double the DNR-recommended quota of 119 wolves.

The Natural Resources Board—with Prehn remaining past his term and giving conservatives a majority—doubled down in August, voting to enact a 300-wolf quota for the fall 2021 wolf hunt until a judge blocked the hunt.

Meyer said WMC is motivated not by wolf hunting but by having Prehn continue to help obstruct new rules and clean water standards involving PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a group of man-made industrial chemicals commonly found in products like firefighting foam and stain-resistant sprays that do not break down naturally and have been linked to medical conditions such as low birth weights, cancer, thyroid hormone disruption, and immune system issues.

“WMC is very active on the issue of [PFAS] regulation,” Meyer said. “They oppose any regulation of it, and so far [have] stymied any significant regulations. Hunter Nation, their big issue is wolves, and Doc Prehn agrees with them on that. And so has the Senate [leadership]. And that’s why they’re behind this.”

Meyer said Hunter Nation leaders have indicated they plan to be heavily involved in the gubernatorial election, in keeping with the group’s claim to be” the united voice of the American hunter, to protect our sport, our lifestyle, and our heritage — while standing for the principles of God, family, country, and our nation’s Constitution.”

As for the historic “advise and consent” model of the Senate reviewing and confirming a governor’s nominees, Meyer said he would like to see a deadline on that opportunity so future legislatures cannot similarly hold hostage the appointments of public servants without ever having to hold a vote.

“There should be a deadline,” he said. “Say, 90 days, and if they don’t like them, vote them down. But this way [currently], there is no accountability.”

The Up North Podcast referenced above is not affiliated with UpNorthNews. Founding Editor Pat Kreitlow is a co-host of the show but has no financial or employment ties to the program.