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Great Lakes Today

Debate over new head of EPA's Great Lakes office

Cathy Stepp, head of EPA's Region 5 office
Cathy Stepp, head of EPA's Region 5 office

The appointment of Cathy Stepp to lead a regional EPA office that covers most of the Great Lakes is drawing praise and criticism.

EPA adminstrator Scott Pruitt says her background as a Wisconsin official and small business owner "will bring a fresh perspective to EPA as we look to implement President Trump’s agenda."

But Henry Henderson, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest director, told the AP that Stepp’s record fits with the administration's "lax mode of enforcement.”

Henderson added that environmental groups will be “very, very busy” under her tenure.

Stepp, a former homebuilder, was a Republican state senator in Wisconsin and headed its Department of Natural Resources from 2011-2017. Now, she'll lead a regional office that covers Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. 

The EPA is a key agency in maintaining clean air and water across the region -- and helping to address  decades of industrial pollution.

In January, Great Lakes Today reported that Wisconsin's DNR was being criticized for deleting facts and information about climate change from its website.

Words like "climate change" and references to greenhouse gases or human contributors vanished. The revisions said "the Earth is going through a change" and the reasons "are being debated." 

​“The greatest long-term threat to the natural resources in the state is climate change,” George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a former head of the state's DNR, told Great Lakes Today. “And if the lead agency that is responsible for managing the environment doesn’t even recognize it what causes it, we’re in serious trouble.”

The EPA news release about Stepp's appointment included praise from state officials in Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as from associations representing manufacturers and Realtors.

In that release, John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, saidhe collaborated with Stepp while she headed Wisconsin's DNR. "I’m confident she understands the key environmental protection issues," in the region, he added.

But Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, told AP that the DNR under Stepp “turned back the clock on basic safeguards” of water and air.


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