What was the Public Intervenor Office?

The Legislature created the Public Intervenor Office in 1967 to watchdog state government and intervene when government action or inaction threatened public rights in natural resources.  We all know that the government can sometimes be understaffed, make mistakes, exceed its powers, succumb to special interest pressure, and violate public rights. 

Conservationists saw this going on before the old Conservation Department was merged with the Department of Resource Development to create today's Department of Natural Resources.  Conservationists demanded this outside advocate be created precisely to ensure advocacy for resource issues.  After all, the environment does not have a voice unless someone else speaks up for it.  This check and balance system was lost when the Public Intervenor was abolished in1995.

This was a public service office which defended public rights in the waters and other natural resources in Wisconsin.  These are rights all Wisconsin citizens are supposed to be able to enjoy without having to sue special interests that threaten them.  Since the office was eliminated in the 1995-96 state budget process, that burden now falls back on citizens. 

The Public Intervenor Office gave ordinary citizens a place to call for technical and legal advice, and referrals, when they faced complicated environmental problems or couldn’t get results from government agencies --- with such issues as contaminated drinking water wells, mining of groundwater and minerals, landfill siting, lake and river pollution, wetland destruction, or other damaging forms of developments in their communities. 

The Intervenors also lobbied government agencies directly to ensure public rights were addressed and to counteract lobbying of special interest groups who could harm public rights.  The Intervenors advised legislators, testified at hearings, wrote detailed technical and legal comments to agencies, served on numerous agency advisory committees, and successfully pushed for environmental protection legislation. 

On occasion, the Intervenors joined or initiated lawsuits on precedent-setting cases to uphold public rights --- for example: to stop pollution and protect drinking water, to enact water recreation safety provisions, Protecting Public Accessto ensure adequate environmental impact studies, to protect public access to Wisconsin lakes and streams, to create public right to know laws such as for pesticide applications, to require that landfills comply with siting and water protection laws, to defend the right of local governments to regulate harmful activities, to enforce Wisconsin’s water quality standards, etc. 

Sometimes, the Intervenors joined with agencies to strengthen their legal actions to uphold public rights, because of the Office’s unique experience and skills.

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