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Evers vetoes a Republican-backed bill targeting PFAS chemicals

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FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks prior to President Joe Biden's appearance at an event about canceling student debt, Monday, April 8, 2024, at the Madison Area Technical College Truax campus in Madison, Wis. Evers vetoed a Republican bill Tuesday, April 9, that would have created grants to fight pollution from “forever chemicals” and took the unusual step of calling the GOP-controlled budget committee into meeting to approve spending $125 million to deal with contamination. (AP Photo/Kayla Wolf, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a Republican bill Tuesday that would have created grants to fight pollution from “forever chemicals” and took the unusual step of calling the GOP-controlled budget committee into meeting to approve spending $125 million to deal with contamination.

Evers has only called a meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee once before, a rarely used power afforded the governor under state law.

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.

Campbell residents there have been using bottled water for over four years.

The bill Evers vetoed called 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 have been eligible for grants.

Evers said in his veto message that he objected to the bill because it would limit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ authority to hold polluters liable.

Back in February, town of Campbell supervisor, Lee Donahue, said she opposes the 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.”

Multiple environmental groups urged Evers to veto the legislation, saying the limits on DNR enforcement are a deal-breaker. The Wisconsin Towns Association, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, and the Wisconsin Counties Association supported the bill.

Evers and Republicans have not been able to agree on the best way to combat pollution from PFAS, chemicals that have polluted groundwater in communities across the state. Evers and Republicans have both said that fighting the chemicals is a priority.

Evers said it was “just wrong” that lawmakers have not approved spending the $125 million that was allocated to combat PFAS in the state budget passed last year.

“There is no reason Wisconsinites should have to wait any longer than they already have for these funds to be released,” Evers said in a statement. “This is about doing the right thing for our kids, our families, and our communities, and it should’ve been done a long time ago. This must get done.”

Republican Sen. Eric Wimberger, who cosponsored the bill, called the veto “shameful” and said he was holding the funding hostage.

“Every person in Wisconsin deserves to have clean, safe drinking water, and the Governor denied them that,” Wimberger said in a statement.

Evers said that addressing PFAS contamination remains a priority for him and the bill he vetoed “is not good enough.”

Evers has called an April 16 meeting for them to consider releasing $125 million again, but Republicans have shown no indication they will act.

Wimberger, the bill’s sponsor, said Evers wants to create a “slush fund” for the DNR, rather than funnel the $125 million through the program spelled out in the bill.

The Republican bill authors argued that the limits are necessary to protect landowners, who aren’t responsible for PFAS pollution on their property, from fines.

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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1 Comment

  1. The Prairie

    April 9, 2024 at 4:16 pm

    Ridiculous. The DNR already has wide authority to demand polluters undertake groundwater monitoring. But that can easily cost six-figures over several years for a property owner; not what most Campbell residents want. Governor DoLittle needs to sign the bill.

    We know where the pollution came from…the airport owned by the City of La Crosse. Why are we not hearing anything from the City? The City should be footing the bill for groundwater monitoring. And why isn’t WIZM and other media asking questions? Where is Mayor Mitch on this matter?

    The DNR has been asleep on this matter for decades.

    Manufacturers of PFAS chemicals are already phasing them out; you’re a step or two behind.

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