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Biden, La Crosse’s mayor discuss PFAS problem, as Wisconsin GOP lawmakers look to protect manufacturers

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FILE - President Joe Biden talks with Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., center, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., left, and La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds as he arrives on Air Force One at La Crosse Regional Airport Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in La Crosse, Wis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A glaring problem right where Joe Biden landed Tuesday was addressed by the president.

French Island residents are caught in a PFAS mess, after private wells were discovered contaminated with the forever chemicals early this year.

Biden talked about the issue during his speech from the La Crosse MTU building on Isle La Plume.

“It’s a problem all across the country, and I know that you’re feeling it right here,” Biden said. “Right here, in La Crosse County. Just this spring, the state had to provide free bottled water to thousands of people on French Island, because they’re worried about those chemicals in the groundwater, which were linked to cancer and other illnesses.

“We’ll pay for that. We’ll get that done. We’re also going to surge federal resources to help address the forever chemicals, not just here, but all across America. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s not unique in this problem.”

La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds and Congressman Ron Kind, a French Island resident, greeted Biden as he came off Air Force One at the La Crosse Regional Airport, where some of the blame for PFAS in the groundwater is being laid.

“During our very limited conversation at the airport, Congressman Kind and I both talked about PFAS with the president and talked about what a significant issue it is,” Reynolds said Tuesday on La Crosse Talk PM. “He’s very much aware. He understands that it’s a growing problem throughout the nation.

“He also understands that there needs to be an investment in fixing the issues that we’re dealing with after decades of manufacturers throwing poisons at us.”

FILE – La Crosse Airport Fire Station

Back in March, the city of La Crosse filed a lawsuit against chemical manufacturers that produced firefighting foam, alleging those companies knew since the 1960s that PFAS could seep into groundwater.

If the city were to apply for a grant program passed by the GOP-led Wisconsin Assembly on a party-line vote last week, it appears that those lawsuits would have to be rescinded for there to be any state funding.

The bill would allow communities to apply for grants to help deal with the contamination, but added a qualifier that, to get the money, those communities could not sue manufacturers that created the pollution.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers had a grant system in his state budget that didn’t ban communities from suing over the contamination. Republicans removed it.

In fact, Republicans removed quite a bit of other PFAS-related measures from Evers’ budget, including:

  • Standards for PFAS.
  • Measures to force businesses found to have released the chemicals into the environment to take responsibility.
  • Funding for certified PFAS testing labs and hazardous substance discharge investigations.
  • Eliminated 11 scientist positions at the DNR, that would have tested all public water systems for the chemicals, and created a PFAS testing lab.

Republicans kept one measure in Evers’ budget — funding of $1 million for a firefighting foam collection program. It would collect over 63,000 gallons of foam currently at 830 fire departments across the state.

Back to the grant system in the Assembly’s bill. If a community were to apply for grant money, it would also have to match funds equal to at least 20% of the amount.

And, once a community applies for and receives the grant, it wouldn’t be allowed to bring any sort of claim against a person or party responsible for the PFAS contamination.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group that represents manufacturers and other corporations, backed the Republican-led measure.

The group’s lobbyist said in written testimony said the proposal would help address the harm caused by PFAS while protecting businesses and local governments from “costly and frivolous lawsuits.”

French Island residents have proposed suing the city of La Crosse for the use of PFAS by the airport’s fire department. The lawsuits against the city could add up to over $39 million in claims, WPR reported.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. TOM FITZPATRICK

    July 1, 2021 at 9:21 am

    It is outrageous that the Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature would propose legislation that would prevent lawsuits against the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals that harm Wisconsin citizens. Republicans claim to be in favor of free enterprise, but not to holding those enterprises accountable for the harm they cause people and/or the environment.

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