Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Evers urges lawmakers to support compromise to release $125 Million to fight PFAS contaminants

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//February 27, 2024//

FILE - PFAS foam gathers at the the Van Etten Creek dam in Oscoda Township, Mich., near Wurtsmith Air Force Base, June 7, 2018. The Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, that would unlock $125 million to help municipalities and landowners cope with pollution from so-called forever chemicals, but Gov. Tony Evers isn't on board. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

Evers urges lawmakers to support compromise to release $125 Million to fight PFAS contaminants

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//February 27, 2024//

Listen to this article

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers Tuesday urged Republican lawmakers to support a compromise proposal aimed at expeditiously releasing $125 million to fight PFAS contaminants statewide, asking the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to release funds to combat PFAS without controversial provisions to benefit polluters contained in a Republican-backed bill passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature last week.

According to Evers, the $125 million investment to combat PFAS statewide, available through the 2023-25 biennial budget passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature and enacted by Evers last July, has languished unspent in Madison for months—over 230 days—as Republican legislators have ignored repeated requests from Evers to release the critical funding. The governor’s compromise proposal offered today is functionally identical to the Republican bill passed last week by the Wisconsin State Legislature, largely retaining most of the bill’s key provisions.

“There’s not one good reason that $125 million the Legislature and I both approved over 230 days ago to fight PFAS contaminants statewide should still be sitting in Madison today,” said Evers.

“Ensuring Wisconsinites have access to clean, safe drinking water should never be a partisan issue, which is why Republicans should have released these critical investments months ago,” Evers added.

“Wisconsinites shouldn’t have to wait any longer than they already have,” Evers continued. “I’m urging lawmakers to support this bipartisan compromise that’s mostly based on the bill Republicans passed last week and release these funds so we can get these resources out to communities and folks across Wisconsin who need them.”

Evers said his compromise proposal Tuesday comes as Republicans last week passed Senate Bill (SB) 312, which neither appropriates new funding to fight PFAS nor releases any portion of the $125 million previously secured through the biennial budget process. As passed by Republicans in the Legislature, SB 312 provides no actual or immediate financial assistance to communities impacted by PFAS and, further, provides no guarantee the $125 million investment available through the biennial budget will be distributed to communities affected by PFAS contaminants to help protect and clean up local water supplies.

Rather, SB 312 contains “poison pill” provisions designed to benefit polluters that could functionally give polluters a free pass from cleaning up their own spills and contamination. Under Wisconsin’s existing environmental protection laws, any party causing, possessing, or controlling a hazardous substance that has been released into the environment is required to clean it up. SB 312 specifically prohibits the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from taking enforcement action against polluters and contaminators so long as the polluter allows the DNR to remediate the site at the DNR’s own expense. That is, under SB 312, as passed by Republicans, so long as a polluter allows the DNR to clean up the contamination using Wisconsin taxpayer dollars, the DNR may not take enforcement action against the polluter.

According to Evers, residents of communities affected by PFAS, conservationists, clean water advocates, and Evers have repeatedly raised concerns about the provision designed to benefit polluters at taxpayers’ expense over the course of months of negotiations with Sens. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) and Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), co-authors of SB 312. The “poison pill” provision has drawn specific ire and criticism from Evers, who has spent years working to hold three Wisconsin manufacturers and 15 other defendants accountable for conduct leading directly to PFAS contamination of Wisconsin’s natural resources and trying to prevent Wisconsinites from having to foot the bill to clean up polluters’ contamination.

“In Wisconsin, if someone pollutes our water, property, and natural resources, Wisconsinites expect them to pay to clean it up. That’s just common sense. I’m not signing a bill that lets polluters off the hook for cleaning up their contamination and asks Wisconsin taxpayers to foot the bill. No way,” said Evers.

Ever also said, as noted above, SB 312 does not release or impact in any way the existing $125 million biennial budget investment to fight PFAS statewide. Thus, the governor vetoing SB 312 will have no effect whatsoever on whether the $125 million to combat PFAS remains available or will be released by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee—that decision remains Republican committee members’ alone. For over 230 days, Republican committee members have been able to release the $125 million to combat PFAS contaminants across Wisconsin at any time, and that remains the case today.

Specifically, the governor’s compromise proposed today would:

1. Provide $100,000,000 in financial assistance to carry out the following eligible activities consistent with the structure outlined in the Municipal PFAS grant program in SB 312, as amended:

  • Provide financial assistance to municipalities for PFAS testing performed at properties owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by those municipalities based on the cost of testing and the amount of testing needed in each community;
  • Provide financial assistance to non-municipal public or community water systems for the entity to test its drinking water supply for PFAS;
  • Provide financial assistance to the owner or manager of, or the holder of a solid waste facility license issued by the department for, privately owned solid waste disposal facilities to test for the presence of PFAS in leachate;
  • Provide financial assistance to municipalities to test for PFAS levels at locations that are owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by a municipality and where PFAS may be present, including airports, water systems, wastewater treatment facilities, or contaminated lands, and to test for PFAS levels in leachate at solid waste disposal facilities that are owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by a municipality;
  • Provide financial assistance to municipalities and the owner or manager of, or the holder of a solid waste facility license issued by the department for, privately owned solid waste disposal facilities to dispose of PFAS-containing biosolids or leachate at facilities that accept such biosolids or leachate or to purchase and install on-site treatment systems to address PFAS contained in biosolids or leachate;
  • Provide financial assistance for capital costs or debt service, including for facility upgrades or new infrastructure, to municipalities that are small or disadvantaged or in which rates for water or wastewater utilities will increase by more than 20 percent as a direct result of steps taken to address PFAS contamination; and
  • Provide financial assistance to municipalities for capital costs or other costs related to PFAS that are not otherwise paid from the environmental improvement fund. Assistance may be provided to municipalities for costs for addressing solid waste disposal facilities or other contaminated lands owned, leased, managed, or contracted for by the municipality; costs incurred by fire departments, including to replace PFAS-containing fire fighting foam; costs for the preparation and implementation of pollutant minimization plans; and costs incurred by municipal public utilities or metropolitan sewerage districts created under ch. 200 for pretreatment or other PFAS source reduction measures for an interconnected customer or other regular customer if the costs incurred are less than the costs of the upgrades otherwise required at the endpoint treatment facility and if the costs are approved by the governing body of the municipality or the metropolitan sewerage district.
  1. Provide $25,000,000 in financial assistance to carry out the following eligible activities consistent with the financial assistance outlined in the Innocent Landowner grant program in SB 312, as amended:
  • Provide financial assistance to landowners whose property is contaminated with PFAS such as is proposed for eligible persons in the Innocent Landowner grant program in SB 312, as amended;
  • Provide financial assistance to landowners whose land was used for permitted biosolids or wastewater residuals landspreading; fire departments or municipalities that responded to emergencies that required the use of PFAS; solid waste disposal facilities that accepted PFAS; and landowners of property on which PFAS contamination did not originate; and
  • Provide financial assistance for costs associated with additional testing, environmental studies, engineering reports, clean drinking water supplies, including temporary potable water, filtration, well replacement, or interconnection to a municipal water supply, remediation costs, and any other cost resulting from landspreading of contaminated biosolids, detection of groundwater contamination, or other contamination events affecting the individual’s property.

A copy of Gov. Evers’ compromise proposal is available here. A copy of Gov. Evers’ letter to Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairs is available here.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND ON PFAS
PFAS are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, synthetic chemicals known to be toxic, mobile, and persistent in the environment, meaning they do not break down naturally. PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays, and certain types of firefighting foam. PFAS chemicals resist degradation in the environment and accumulate in the body. These contaminants are linked to serious adverse health effects in humans and animals. Epidemiologic studies have shown that potential adverse human health effects from exposure to some PFAS include increased serum cholesterol, immune dysregulation, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, and kidney and testicular cancers. Exposure to certain types of PFAS is also associated with low birthweight in humans, suppressed immune system response, dyslipidemia, impaired kidney function, and delayed onset of menstruation.

Polls

What kind of stories do you want to read more of?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Legal News

See All Legal News

WLJ People

Sea all WLJ People

Opinion Digests