Evers again asks Republicans to release $125M to combat forever chemicals pollution

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers reiterated Tuesday that he will veto a Republican bill that would create subsidies to combat pollution from so-called “forever chemicals,” and again asked GOP lawmakers to release $125 million to environmental regulators to tackle pollution.

Republicans who control the Legislature’s powerful Finance Committee did not immediately respond to Evers’ request, raising the possibility that the money would not be spent indefinitely as municipalities across the state grapple with PFAS contamination in their groundwater .

“Wisconsinites should not have to wait any longer than they already have,” Evers wrote in a letter Tuesday to Finance Committee leaders, Secretary of State Howard Marklein and State Representative Mark Born. “Party politics should not stand in the way of tackling PFAS contamination. in communities across our state.”

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that do not break down easily in nature. They are found in a wide range of products, including cookware and stain-resistant clothing, and were previously commonly used in aviation firefighting foam. The chemicals have been linked to health problems including low birth weight, cancer and liver disease, and have been shown to make vaccines less effective.

Municipalities across Wisconsin are struggling with PFAS contamination in groundwater, including Marinette, Madison, Wausau and the city of Campbell on French Island. Green Bay’s waters are also polluted.

Republicans created a $125 million trust fund in the state budget last summer to address PFAS pollution. Evers has been trying to take the money from them for months, but the committee has not yet released a dollar.

Republican Secretaries of State Eric Wimberger and Rob Cowles have authored a sweeping bill that calls for the money to be spent on grants for municipalities, private landowners and waste management facilities to test for PFAS in water treatment plants and wells. Landowners with properties that became contaminated through no fault of their own would also be eligible for subsidies.

The Senate passed the bill in November and the General Assembly followed suit earlier this month. But Evers has said he won’t sign the legislation into law because the bill doesn’t actually release any money, and he’s concerned about language that would limit the Department of Natural Resources’ power to hold polluters accountable.

Several environmental groups have urged Evers to veto the legislation, saying the restrictions on DNR enforcement are a dealbreaker. Wimberger and Cowles have argued that the limits are necessary to protect landowners who are not responsible for PFAS pollution on their property from fines.

Evers directed the DNR in December to ask the Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to simply release the $125 million to the agency, but the committee has taken no action.

The governor promised in his letter Tuesday that he will veto the bill. He wrote that even if he signed it, there was no guarantee the commission would release the money.

Evers said in the letter that he has instructed DNR officials to again ask the commission to release the $125 million to the agency, this time promising it would be spent according to the parameters set in Wimberger’s bill. Cowles. The governor called the request a compromise.

Aides to Marklein and Born did not immediately respond to emails Tuesday seeking comment on Evers’ request.

Wimberger said in a statement that the bill would protect landowners and that Evers is deliberately mislabeling them as polluters, which amounts to “oppressive bureaucratic domination.” The statement did not address the governor’s latest request to release the money to the DNR.