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Monday, October 26, 2009

The dirty fight over cleaner power

From an article by Dee J. Hall in the La Crosse Tribune:

When state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett resigned suddenly in the summer of 2007, Gov. Jim Doyle's office announced that Hassett was leaving to "write, travel and consult on environmental and regulatory issues."

Privately, however, Hassett told a different story: That Doyle, a fellow Democrat, had forced him out of the top spot at the DNR because of the agency's insistence that the state clean up UW-Madison's coal-burning Charter Street heating plant - a move now expected to cost Wisconsin more than $200 million.

Hassett has told at least two former top DNR officials that he was forced to resign and one

of the reasons was the Charter Street enforcement action, which pitted two state agencies against one another in a conflict that hit close to the governor's office.

"There was no doubt in my mind that he (Hassett) was forced out," said George Meyer, DNR secretary from 1993 to 2001, recounting a conversation he had with Hassett at Hassett's Lake Mills-area home in March. Meyer said Hassett told him he believed the enforcement action against the plant was a key reason for his ouster.

Tom Thoresen, retired deputy chief conservation warden for the DNR, said Hassett told him a similar story in a phone conversation earlier this month.

Thoresen said he called Hassett to thank him for helping push for a bill that would take away the power of the governor to appoint the DNR secretary and return that authority to the Natural Resources Board. Four former DNR secretaries, including Hassett and Meyer, signed a letter last month backing Assembly Bill 138.

"I did talk to Scott Hassett ... thanking him for his signing on to the DNR letter to legislators," Thoresen said. "Scott told me that yes, Charter Street was part of the reason for his being let go."

Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner declined to answer directly whether Hassett, and his deputy, Mary Schlaefer, were forced out. He pointed to a July 20, 2007, news release that implied Hassett was resigning because of overwork after four and a half years on the job.

"Anyone who claims that Charter Street is the reason for Scott Hassett's departure is a liar," Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

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