Read the full article by Laura Schulte (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“A bill aimed at addressing ‘forever chemicals’ could receive a vote from the full state Senate as early as next week, even though impacted residents and communities are still worried it may do more harm than good.
The PFAS bill was first introduced this spring, and an an amended version was approved Wednesday by Republicans on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy with little debate or conversation.
The amendments made some narrow changes to the legislation, on the heels of months of conversation between lawmakers, Gov. Tony Evers, environmental groups and the Department of Natural Resources.
‘(The bill) focuses on what the regular person in Wisconsin really needs right now, which is clean water and to not have their land values taken from them by the government,’ said Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay.
He said there shouldn’t be worries about the limitations on the Department of Natural Resources, as the bill wouldn’t impact the agency’s work as much as some worry it will.
But the two Democratic members of the committee still expressed concerns, and ultimately voted against the bill.
Sen. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, said that while there is good in the bill, she’s still worried about the impact on the DNR.
‘Maybe we could make a few changes before or when it gets to the floor,’ she said. ‘I have some ideas.’
The PFAS bill, if approved by the governor, would create grant programs aimed at providing aid to communities with contamination, in addition to limiting the actions that the Department of Natural Resources could take to address contamination or hold polluters accountable.
It would also commission studies, require a reduction in costs for testing, expand the well compensation grant program, and establish an innocent buyer program that would help out property owners who unknowingly purchase land contaminated with PFAS.
The bill does not include the funding for the programs. Instead, funding was created by the budget process this summer, during which lawmakers set aside $125 million to address the compounds. That funding could be accessed by the DNR if the agency goes in front of the Legislature’s budget committee and receives approvals for projects.
Governor expresses disappointment in bill
Evers’ office said the amended bill showed that Republicans in charge of the legislature don’t share the governor’s ‘commitment to finding real, meaningful solutions to the pressing water quality issues facing our state.’
‘Ensuring every Wisconsinite has access to clean, safe drinking water should transcend politics and partisanship, so it’s disappointing that Republicans aren’t interested in doing the right thing and working together toward that important goal,’ Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in an email Wednesday.
Cudaback said the DNR and the governor’s office attempted for months to ‘work in good faith’ with the Republican bill authors on a compromise, but those conversations ended and the input given was not included in the amendments.
‘Republicans decided to advance this bill absent the changes we’ve been discussing with them for some time,’ Cudaback said.
But Republican authors said the legislation does still contain helpful provisions, which could help drive research and speed up standard-setting for some areas. But, many advocates say the bill falls short in several ways.
Concerns over DNR limitations
There are still concerns over several areas of the bill, and in particular the limits on the DNR when it comes to testing for the compounds or allowing construction on heavily polluted land.
The bill would not allow the agency to test properties for PFAS without probable cause that the property had or currently has an amount of the chemicals that would violate state or federal standards. The bill would also prevent the agency from impeding construction projects because of the presence of PFAS, unless it poses a substantial public risk.
Additionally, the agency would not be able to disclose testing results without notifying the landowner at least 72 hours in advance.
Environmental advocacy groups argue that the bill places unnecessary burdens on the DNR, which could limit the actions it could take to hold accountable polluters.
‘We are disappointed the amendment did not address DNR’s concerns over unnecessary limits on its authority to test and require mitigation for PFAS contamination,’ said Erik Kanter, the government affairs director for Clean Wisconsin in a release Tuesday.
‘We call on the legislature to introduce the Municipal Grant Program as a standalone piece of legislation, pass it, and send it to Governor Evers for his signature so the state can start sending the $125 million the Joint Finance Committee allocated for PFAS to the communities who need it. They should not be forced to wait for help any longer.’
Authors refuted the idea of separating the municipal program, though, saying that providing grants to only municipal systems would leave behind rural areas.
‘We’re not going to abandon rural property,’ said Wimberger during a press conference. ‘The result of doing that will be to totally deteriorate the value of rural property and we’re not going to abandon one.’
The bill could result in less resources for individual land owners, homeowners and families impacted by PFAS, and instead provide more protections for businesses, said River Alliance of Wisconsin senior legal analyst Bill Davis.
‘The legislature’s job here was not hard: use the money they set aside to help municipalities and truly innocent landowners deal with PFAS contamination,’ he said. ‘Instead the legislature took three and half months to make the bill worse. Now entities who are neither innocent nor landowners would be eligible for state funding.’
Residents of the Marinette area, which is facing one of the worst PFAS contamination in the country due to the decades-long testing of firefighting foam by Tyco Fire Products, also expressed displeasure with the bill, over the limitations on the DNR and the inability to hold accountable corporate polluters.
‘To say the authors didn’t listen to the residents impacted by PFAS contamination across Wisconsin doesn’t begin to describe how they kowtowed to corporate interests and their apologists while locking their constituents out of their deliberations,’ said members of Save Our Water, an advocacy group made up of residents impacted by the Tyco contamination.”…