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Wisconsin bill would tie PFAS grants to lawsuit immunity

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FILE - La Crosse Airport Fire Station

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly planned to vote Tuesday on a bill that would create a new $10 million grant program to help communities clean up contamination from “forever chemicals” known as PFAS but would ban them from suing those responsible for the pollution.

The Republican-backed measure has the support of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group that represents manufacturers and other corporations. The group’s lobbyist, Scott Manley, said in written testimony supporting the proposal at a hearing earlier this month that it would help address the harm caused by PFAS while protecting businesses and local governments from “costly and frivolous lawsuits.”

Under the bill, any local government that accepts a grant is barred from bringing any legal action against the person or party responsible for the contamination. Grants could also not be awarded to any entity that has already received an award from a lawsuit.

The city of La Crosse has sued PFAS manufacturers for their role in the ongoing problem on French Island. Residents there have also considered suing La Crosse, since the chemicals were used by the city-owned airport’s fire department, which is at least partly the cause of the contamination around the island.

The proposed $10 million annual grant program would be funded with money from the federal coronavirus relief bill. Recipients would have to match 20% of the grant.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down in the environment. They have been used for decades in a range of products, including stain-resistant sprays and firefighting foam and have been an issue in communities across Wisconsin, with some of the worst pollution in Marinette and La Crosse.

The grants could be used for a wide range of PFAS-related issues, including well sampling and pollution remediation.

Republican Rep. Elijah Behnke, who represents Marinette in the Assembly, introduced the bill. It would also have to pass the Senate and be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.