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Evers again asks Wisconsin Republicans to release $125M to combat PFAS “forever chemicals” pollution, causing French Island to be on bottled water 4 years

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FILE - Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers during an Associated Press interview on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in his Capitol office in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Todd Richmond)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers reiterated Tuesday that he will veto a Republican bill that would create grants to fight pollution from so-called forever chemicals and again asked GOP lawmakers to release to environmental regulators $125 million set aside to deal with contamination.

Republicans, who control the Legislature’s powerful finance committee, refused to budge, raising the possibility that the money will go unspent indefinitely as municipalities across the state struggle with PFAS contamination in their groundwater.

“Wisconsinites should not have to wait any longer than they already have,” Evers wrote in a letter Tuesday to the finance committee’s co-chairs, state Sen. Howard Marklein and state Rep. Mark Born. “Partisan politics should not stand in the way of addressing PFAS contamination in communities across our state.”

Republicans created a $125 million trust fund in the state budget last summer to address PFAS pollution. Evers has been trying to wrestle the money from them for months but the committee has yet to release a dollar.

Republican state Sens. Eric Wimberger and Rob Cowles authored a sweeping bill that calls for spending the money on grants for municipalities, private landowners and waste disposal facilities to test for PFAS in water treatment plants and wells. Landowners with property that became contaminated through no fault of their own also would be eligible for grants.

The state Senate passed the bill in November and the Assembly followed suit earlier this month. But Evers has said he won’t sign the legislation into law because the bill doesn’t actually release any money and he’s concerned about language that would limit the Department of Natural Resources’ authority to hold polluters liable.

Multiple environmental groups have urged Evers to veto the legislation, saying the limits on DNR enforcement are a deal-breaker. Wimberger and Cowles have argued that the limits are necessary to protect landowners who aren’t responsible for PFAS pollution on their property from fines.

Lee Donahue, a town of Campbell supervisor, said residents there have been using bottled water for four years. She opposes the GOP bill because it weakens the state’s enforcement authority and wants to see the state ban PFAS, set PFAS groundwater limits and find another way to get the $125 million to municipalities. But she’s questioning whether anything will get done.

“It’s a tremendous level of frustration,” she said. “Sadly enough, a lot of these things have become partisan issues. We can’t move forward with the process. People are tired of waiting for the next session and the next session and the next session.”

Municipalities across Wisconsin are struggling with PFAS contamination in groundwater, including Marinette, Madison, Wausau and the town of Campbell on French Island. The waters of Green Bay also are contaminated.

Evers directed the DNR in December to ask the Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to simply release the $125 million to the agency, but the committee has taken no action.

The governor promised in his letter Tuesday that he will veto the bill. He wrote that even if he signed it, there was no guarantee the committee would release the money.

Evers said in the letter that he has ordered DNR officials to again ask the committee to release the $125 million to the agency, this time promising it would be spent according to the parameters laid out in the Wimberger-Cowles bill. The governor called the request a compromise.

In a joint statement, Marklein and Born said Republicans made setting aside money for PFAS contamination a priority.

“Governor Evers should sign it instead of holding up these funds to give the DNR authority to penalize innocent landowners,” they said.

Wimberger, who sits on the finance committee, said in a statement that the bill would protect landowners and that Evers is deliberately mischaracterizing them as polluters, which amounts to “oppressive bureaucratic domination.” The statement didn’t address the governor’s latest request to release the money to the DNR.

Wimberger issued another statement later Tuesday saying the bill makes changes in state law to enable the grant programs. Releasing the money to the DNR, even with promises that it will be spent as the bill outlines, will turn it into “a slush fund,” he said.

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that don’t easily break down in nature. They are found in a wide range of products, including cookware and stain-resistant clothing, and previously were often used in aviation fire-suppression foam. The chemicals have been linked to health problems including low birth weight, cancer and liver disease, and have been shown to make vaccines less effective.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Walden

    February 28, 2024 at 10:02 am

    This is a political football only because of the governor. The WI DNR already has broad power to monitor and regulate groundwater contamination. The cost to a private landowner to set up test wells and perform periodic monitoring can easily exceed $100,000; so the DNR needs to be restrained in its demand on private landowners.

    The DNR has already failed. Problems with PFAS goes back decades; remember “Scotchban”…yup, a PFAS.

    This is a terribly written article, factually incomplete, intentionally misleading, and incoherent title.

  2. Kevin

    February 28, 2024 at 10:32 am

    Seems like Big Tony should sign the bill !

  3. John Q Public

    February 29, 2024 at 6:09 am

    Democrats have a history of diverting funds to their pet social programs and the pockets of their doners end result will be less then a third of that money going for it intended purpose.

    • walden

      March 1, 2024 at 9:41 am

      Why is Dem controlled local governments and their insurers not stepping? Why are we not hearing more about their refusal to support these citizens?

  4. From The Prairie

    March 1, 2024 at 9:48 am

    The DNR already has a vast groundwater monitoring bureaucracy and a State funded budget of over $600 million annually plus various grants (including PFAS grants) from the feds. What is it exactly that the DNR is unable to do without more taxpayer $?

    Are these reporters unable to ask ANY probing questions at all?

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