For nearly a full year, Republicans have withheld $125 million to clean up contaminated drinking water in Wisconsin

Forever Chemical Hunting

FILE - This photo provided by the National Wildlife Federation shows a sign warning hunters not to eat deer because of high amounts of toxic chemicals in their meat, in Oscoda, Mich., March 26, 2021. Wildlife agencies in some parts of the country are finding elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in game animals such as deer, prompting new restrictions on hunting and fishing. (Photo by Drew YoungeDyke, National Wildlife Federation via AP)

By Pat Kreitlow

June 5, 2024

GOP leadership doesn’t have the votes to override vetoes from Gov. Tony Evers, so they’ve chosen to sit on the money to clean up PFAS—even though the full legislature already approved the spending.

A new report from the Wisconsin Legislative Council knocks down an excuse Republicans are using to justify nearly a full year of withholding $125 million in funds to address PFAS contamination in drinking water.

State Senate Democratic Leader Dianne Hesselbein released the report on Wednesday about the funding, which has already been approved by the Legislature.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are part of a large class of manmade chemical products that were used to make coatings and products that resist heat, stains, oil, and water—everything from non-stick cookware and pizza boxes to fire-extinguishing foams. They are also known as “forever chemicals,” because their intentional durability means they do not break down in nature over time. Many of the pollutants have since been found to increase the risk of some cancers, affect reproductive health, and cause developmental delays in children.

Despite the inclusion in the state budget of money to identify and clean up contaminants—a budget signed into law on July 5, 2023 by Gov. Tony Evers–Republican leadership in the legislature insists the funds must not be released by the Joint Finance Committee until after they reach an agreement with Evers on how the funding will specifically be used.

Evers has used his line-item veto to remove or change some of the language in the budget bill and other legislation, as is his right. If legislators want to challenge those changes, they can vote to override his veto. But Republicans don’t have enough votes to do that—so they have been holding up the water clean-up money for nearly a year and allowing water to remain contaminated in multiple Wisconsin locations.

Republicans want Evers to agree to their demands for language that allows companies that produced PFAS to avoid legal consequences from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, if the company allows the DNR to partake in on-site cleanup efforts at the department’s own expense. Critics say such a measure would allow polluters to release hazardous substances without the threat of legal action and undermine Wisconsin’s longtime “spills law” while funding cleanups with taxpayer dollars.

The Legislative Council, which provides legal analysis to the state Assembly and Senate, notes in its report that the Joint Finance Committee can release the funds whenever Republican leadership chooses to—and is not dependent on any separate legislation or deal between lawmakers and the governor.

Republicans are similarly holding back $15 million to address a healthcare crisis in western Wisconsin caused by the abrupt closure of two hospitals—and blocking nearly $50 million to help improve reading outcomes and literacy in schools across the state, also because they did not like some of Evers’ line-item vetoes.

“The committee’s co-chairs, representing just a tiny fraction of the state, should not be able to obstruct state government from functioning,” Hesselbein said, “or be able to withhold critical investments the full Legislature already approved with broad, bipartisan support. It’s time for Republicans to act.”

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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