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Democrat Wisconsin governor bill to fight forever chemicals legislative session

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers indicated Wednesday that he has no intention of signing a Republican bill that would spend tens of millions of dollars to address pollution from so-called permanent chemicals known as PFAS. That’s because the bill would significantly reduce the enforcement powers of regulators.

The Senate passed the bill in November, and the Assembly was scheduled to follow suit Thursday and send the bill to the governor. Time is running out for compromises of any kind. Thursday is the last scheduled floor period of the two-year legislative session. Evers’ position means $125 million set aside by Republicans in the latest state budget to combat PFAS contamination will remain unused.

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PFAS (short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are man-made chemicals that are not easily broken down in nature. They are used in a wide range of products such as cookware and stain-resistant clothing, and were previously commonly used in aviation firefighting foams. These chemicals have been linked to health problems such as low birth weight, cancer, and liver disease, and have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

Municipalities across Wisconsin are struggling with PFAS contamination in their groundwater, including the towns of Marinette, Madison, Wausau and Campbell on French Island. Green Bay’s water is also contaminated.

Campbell Town Supervisor Lee Donahue said Campbell Town residents have been using bottled water for four years. She opposes the bill because it weakens the state’s enforcement authority and wants the state to find another way to ban PFAS, set PFAS groundwater limits, and pass $125 million to local governments. There is. But she doubts anything will come to fruition.

“It’s an incredible level of frustration,” she said. “Unfortunately, many of these issues have become partisan. We can’t move the process forward. People are tired of waiting for the next meeting, and the next meeting, and the next meeting.”

Water researcher Eva Stiebel pours water samples into small glass containers for experiments as part of her drinking water and PFAS research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati on February 16, 2023. Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers indicated on Wednesday, February 21, 2024, that he has no intention of signing a Republican bill that would spend tens of millions of dollars to combat PFAS contamination. That’s because the bill would significantly reduce the enforcement powers of regulators. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

The bill would create subsidies for cities, towns, villages, private property owners, and waste treatment facilities to pay for water treatment plans and test wells for PFAS. The grant will be covered by $125 million from the state budget.

The state Department of Natural Resources, an agency in Evers’ cabinet, would require permission from landowners to test water for PFAS. The agency will be responsible for remediating contaminated sites where the responsible party is unknown or unable to pay for the work.

The DNR would also be prohibited from taking any enforcement action against landowners who apply PFAS pursuant to a license or permit or who own land contaminated by legal fertilizer application. Landowners who allow the DNR to remediate contaminated land at state expense would not be subject to enforcement action.

Evers balked at DNR limits when the bill was introduced last year. In a Feb. 15 letter, the bill’s lead Senate sponsors, Eric Wimberger and Rob Cowles, urged Evers to seize the opportunity to address PFAS. They said the DNR’s restrictions are intended to prevent the agency from imposing fines or holding landowners responsible for pollution they did not cause. They stressed that the bill does not protect actual polluters.

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“We now have an opportunity to help the people of Wisconsin with their health and environmental issues, without forcing them to make personally devastating choices in the process,” Winberger and Cowles said. he writes.

Evers said in a letter to senators Wednesday that Republicans have no intention of holding polluters accountable and have not made any changes to the bill to gain his support.

He also criticized Republicans for forcing the DNR to stop developing limits on PFAS in Wisconsin’s groundwater.

The DNR requires such standards as the basis for enforcement actions, but in December the agency announced a new law requiring state agencies to get permission from lawmakers to continue regulatory work if compliance costs are higher than expected. The state announced that drafting of the standards would need to be halted under a 2017 state law. $10 million in any two years for him. Republicans have not given the DNR permission to continue and have rejected Evers’ request for an exception to the PFAS law.

The governor noted in his letter that the Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee could release $125 million at any time.

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“Once again, I urge my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Finance to approve the DNR’s request and get serious about supporting affected communities,” Evers wrote.

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