Republican lawmakers have proposed a sweeping new plan to tackle PFAS pollution that would create subsidies for local governments, limit regulators’ ability to delay projects on contaminated properties and mandate studies on how to treat contaminated water.
The bill would provide a mechanism for spending $125 million earmarked last month by the legislature’s budget-writing committee to address the chemicals.
“The bill is a strong premise,” Representative Jeff Mursau, the bill’s lead sponsor, said Monday during a public hearing on the measure before the Senate Natural Resources Committee. “We can find common ground to move this bill forward and protect our citizens and natural resources from these toxic chemicals.”
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WISCONSIN CONSERVATIVES VOTE TO Set aside $125 MILLION TO FIGHT PFAS POLLUTION
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that do not break down easily in nature. They are present in a range of products, including cookware, fire-fighting foam, and stain-resistant clothing. They have been linked to low birth weight, cancer and liver disease, and have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Municipalities across Wisconsin are grappling with PFAS contamination in groundwater, including Marinette, Madison, Wausau and the town of Campbell on French Island. The waters of Green Bay are also polluted.
Republicans have already passed bills restricting the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS, but have resisted more for fear that cleanup, filtration upgrades and well reconstruction would cost tens of millions of dollars.
The State Department of Natural Resources set limits for PFAS in surface and drinking water last year and is currently working on limits for groundwater.
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Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a wide variety of measures to address PFAS pollution. (Fox news)
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget proposal included $107 million for PFAS testing and mitigation. Republicans auditing the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee last month scrapped that plan and replaced it with a $125 million trust fund for dealing with PFAS. The new bill would create opportunities to spend it. The main provisions in the measure include:
State Department of Natural Resources grants for local governments and public water companies to test for PFAS; dispose of biosolids containing PFAs; and upgrade infrastructure and facilities. Owners of private contaminated wells can also apply for grants. The DNR should not require owners of abandoned industrial properties to test for PFAS unless the agency has information that the property is contaminated. It would also prevent the DNR from preventing or delaying a development project based on PFAS contamination unless the contamination poses a risk to public health, the project could further affect the environment, or the entity seeking to complete the project has removed the original contamination. caused by negligence. DNR would require permission from private landowners to test their water for PFAS. The agency should take remedial action at any contaminated site where the responsible party is unknown or unable to pay for remediation. A public water company does not need permission from government agencies to upgrade facilities if the cost is less than $2 million. or 50% of the utility’s operating costs for the previous year and the move is in response to PFAS contamination that is a public health concern. The University of Wisconsin System and the DNR should collaborate on PFAS treatment trials.
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According to reports from the Ethics Committee, no groups have come forward to oppose the bill. A large number of organizations have registered as neutral. The Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools are the only groups that have signed up for support.
Democrat Bob Wirch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was concerned that a requirement that the grants match up to 20% of the grant would create burdens on small towns.
He also argued that the bill would handcuff the DNR, which would need more people to manage the grant programs. Evers’ budget would have created 11 more bureau positions to deal with PFAS, but Republicans cleared that provision along with the rest of the governor’s PFAS proposals.
“By putting the burden on the agency and not giving them enough staff and then going after the agency for a bad job, we don’t want to go through that scenario again,” Wirch said.
WISCONSIN LAW SAYS PFAS CONTAMINATION IN STATE WATER LOOKS ‘UNBEATABLE’
Senator Robert Cowles, one of the Senate’s major sponsors and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, countered that the DNR could ask the Finance Committee for additional positions at some point in the future.
Sara Welling, water and agriculture program director for the environmental organization Clean Wisconsin, praised the subsidy programs in the bill, saying they should help local governments improve treatment. But she said the restrictions on DNR testing are too heavy.
Lee Donahue, a Campbell city supervisor, told the commission that the real solution is to ban PFAS and that the DNR should be able to hold polluters accountable. She told a reporter that the bill focuses too much on major urban water systems and doesn’t do enough to help cities like hers that rely solely on private sources for drinking water.
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It was not yet clear when the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and House Speaker Robin Vos did not respond to emails asking questions about the outlook.