Read the full article by Laura Schulte (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“The state’s largest business lobbying group and an Oconomowoc leather-cleaning business are suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over the agency’s enforcement of hazardous chemical cleanup. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce on Tuesday filed a complaint in Waukesha County Circuit Court over the agency’s ability to require cleanup of unregulated emerging contaminants, such as ‘forever’ chemicals. 

The lobbying group and the business — Leather-Rich, Inc., a leather cleaning business — are alleging that the DNR is undermining the law with the way it runs its environmental cleanup program.

At the center of the complaint against the agency is a recent change in policy to focus on PFAS, and enforcing cleanup standards for the substances without going through a rulemaking process and having the standards approved by the Legislature. 

Joanne Kantor, the owner of Leather-Rich, began voluntary remediation of the site three years ago in hopes of selling the business, the complaint said. But over the course of the cleanup, the DNR changed the rules for property owners in the state, enforcing standards unapproved by the Legislature.

Those changes have forced the owner to spend significant resources on plans and reports instead of remediation, delaying her retirement. 

During a voluntary investigation of the business before it was listed for sale, Volatile Organic Compounds were found on the grounds, requiring remediation. Leather-Rich applied to enter the site into a DNR remediation program, hoping that at the end of the remediation process, the business would be released from future liability in relation to the contamination. 

The application for the remediation process was approved, and the DNR later changed its policy regarding the cleanup process, requiring that PFAS testing and remediation also occur on sites if needed. 

After the policy change, the DNR informed the business that its remediation plan was no longer approved, because it did not address PFAS testing, the complaint said. The business checked records and informed the DNR that no substances containing PFAS were used at the business, but the agency still would not approve the remediation. 

Leather-Rich then withdrew from the remediation program, citing that the DNR was acting beyond its authority with the requirement for testing for PFAS, and unnecessarily prolonging the site investigation…”