Wisconsin DNR: Former legislator Dan Meyer named new secretary

Lee Bergquist
Wisconsin State Farmer
Dan Meyer, former Wisconsin State Assembly Representative, is named secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

MADISON - Gov. Scott Walker on Monday named Dan Meyer, a former Republican member of the Assembly from Eagle River, as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. 

Meyer served in the Assembly from 2001 to 2013. Previously, he served as mayor of Eagle River from 1997-2001 and is a former executive director of the Eagle River's chamber of commerce.

He replaces Cathy Stepp, who had run the agency under Walker since 2011. Stepp is taking a job in the Environmental Protection Agency in President Donald Trump's administration. 

Related:DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp stepping down from post

Related:Wisconsin DNR secretary Stepp leaving agency for EPA

Also on Monday, Walker named his deputy chief of staff of operations, Matt Moroney, as the state's liaison to Foxconn Technology Group, the electronics giant planning to construct a $10 billion plant to manufacture liquid crystal display panels in Racine County.

The Legislature created the position as part of a $3 billion incentives package for the Taiwan-based company. The post will be housed at the Department of Administration. Moroney, an attorney, is a former deputy secretary at the DNR. 

In a statement, Walker said Meyer "understands the balance between protecting our natural resources and supporting economic prosperity in our state. As a highly respected former legislator and mayor who cares deeply about conservation, Dan will serve in the best interests of Wisconsin.”

After his election victory in 2010, Walker said that whomever he would name to head the DNR, as well as any of his cabinet secretaries, should be "someone with a chamber of commerce mentality."

Stepp, a former home builder and state senator, antagonized environmental groups for failing to push back against budget cuts and not taking, in their view, more protective stances on issues such as the growing commercial demand for groundwater and a host of water pollution problems.

But Stepp earned the support of business groups who believed she gave more recognition to the economic impact of regulatory actions.

In a statement, Scott Manley, senior vice president  of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said Meyer "has a unique background that makes him well-prepared to run the agency. The business community looks forward to working with him in his new role."

Meyer was meeting on Monday with DNR staff and was unavailable for comment. He is expected to attend the next  Natural Resources Board meeting Wednesday in Minocqua.

Under Meyer, the DNR will oversee environmental reviews  of the Foxconn development — a project expected to cover as much land as the North Shore suburb of Shorewood. The legislation signed this month exempts the company from state wetland reviews and allows the company to perform some construction activity in waterways without a state permit.

Foxconn, however, will still face substantial regulatory scrutiny from the agency, including permits for air emissions and discharges of wastewater from its manufacturing process.   

Under Meyer, the DNR will continue to grapple with other contentious issues, including conflicts over deer and fish management, pollution threats to waterways and managing state parks and other properties with fewer dollars. 

In a statement to staff, Meyer acknowledged the complexity of issues and differing viewpoints. "... as long as we stay grounded in working with the public, following the law, and applying sound science with common sense, we will be successful in accomplishing our mission," he said.

George Meyer, a former DNR secretary, who is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, had been a sharp critic of Stepp on environmental protection issues. 

"I think Dan is someone we can work with," said Meyer, who is not related to Dan Meyer. 

While Stepp participated in hunting as secretary, "Dan's got it in his blood and has a true appreciation for hunting and fishing," George Meyer said. 

"We know he cares about natural resources and that's a major factor in how good someone will be as DNR secretary."

As a legislator, Dan Meyer served on the Joint Finance Committee. He staked out positions to weaken some protections along shorelines, George Meyer said, but moderated his stances over time.

In 2009, Dan Meyer voted for legislation that would have stripped future governors from appointing the DNR secretary, turning that power over to the seven-member Natural Resources Board.

The Senate version of the bill would have required senators to confirm the appointment of the secretary. Meyer disapproved of the the Senate action. 

Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation. 

Meyer's predecessor in the Assembly was Joe Handrick, also a Republican, who currently works in a Walker-appointed position in the Department of Workforce Development. 

"Conservation issues have been controversial for decades, but if you know Dan and his legacy, he is really, really good and working with all sides on issues," said Handrick, noting that he was speaking personally and not for the administration. 

Meyer will be paid $127,026 — the same salary as Stepp, said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson. 

Moroney's salary will increase from $97,011 to $125,000. 

Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.