Skip to Content

Capital City Sunday: Emergency order in place for now, new PFAS developments

Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00

MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican lawmakers' plans to strike down Governor Tony Evers' emergency order, and the mask mandate, hit a snag this week.

With a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo outlining how the state could lose as much as $50 million each month in federal FoodShare payments, GOP leaders in the Senate rushed through an amendment to the still-in-limbo COVID relief package. The amendment would allow Evers to call a new emergency order but only for the purpose of federal aid.

Assembly Republicans tabled the proposal, saying they wanted to make sure they weren't jeopardizing federal money before terminating the order and the mask requirement with it.

"Doesn't mean we're not committed to it," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R - Rochester). "It means that we are trying to be also smart to make sure we don't have any financial issues associated with it."

More than 50 state organizations, mostly in health care, have unanimously registered in opposition to the resolution.

If the amendment remains attached to the COVID relief bill, it all but guarantees Evers will not sign the $100 million relief measure.

"It was loaded up with all sorts of pet projects from the Assembly that, in all likelihood, the governor is going to have to veto," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D - West Point). "I don't think he'll have a choice."

Senate Republicans and Evers previously had compromised on the bill's contents. Assembly GOP leaders added provisions that ban employers from requiring vaccination, prohibit local health officials from closing places of worship, and gives the legislature oversight on future federal relief aid.

New PFAS discoveries, emergency rule altered

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shared the results of its latest study of Madison area water sources for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

The man-made chemicals do not break down and have been linked to health problems like cancer, liver problems, higher cholesterol levels, and decreased vaccine efficacy in children.

The DNR's study found PFA present in additional Madison-area lakes and at various points along the Yahara River.

Carly Michiels, Government Relations Director at Clean Wisconsin, said the results showed the danger of the legislature's administrative rules committee suspending part of the DNR's emergency order addressing the disposal of firefighting foam, the state's leading contributor to PFAS contamination.

"Essentially, what they got at the end was weaker regulations," Michiels said. "They took out some of the most important parts of the rule that really would've gotten to the core of it, which is protecting public health."

In the DNR's testimony to the committee, it stated the rule had a very narrow scope -- regulating the disposal for foam specifically used in testing and training.

"This emergency rule has a very narrow application," the testimony from DNR Secretary Preston Cole read. "The appropriate treatment measures only apply to those individuals or facilities that generate foam
as a result of testing a fire suppression system."

Sen. Rob Cowles (R - Green Bay) has been a proponent of PFAS regulation. The Northeast Wisconsin communities of Marinette and Peshtigo have been hit hardest by PFAS contamination.

Tyco Fire Products has had to supply some households with bottled water as a result of its foam waste polluting water sources.

Cowles wrote the DNR's rules language was both late and ambigous but also took issue with the committee's decision to suspend much of the rule, further limiting what little PFAS regulation currently exists in Wisconsin.

"I believe this emergency rule appropriately reflected Legislative intent," Cowles wrote. "I understand the desire from stakeholders to address these ambiguities, but believe these issues should have been addressed in the ongoing permanent rulemaking process."

The Evers administration announced earlier this month it would consider hiring outside law firms to sue PFAS polluters.

Scott Manley, Executive Vice President of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business lobby, said the enforcement mechanisms DNR still had were more than enough.

"Even with the changes the [JCRAR made], it results in Wisconsin having the most stringent firefighting foam cleanup regulations in the United States of America, if not the world," Manley said.

Manley said, given the discrepancies among state and federal guidelines (DNR has a limit of 20 parts per trillion, the EPA's is 70) over what levels of PFAS are unsafe, it was irresponsible for the Evers administration to authorize legal action against companies suspected of polluting.

"These are compounds that we don't even have an enforceable standard under either state or federal law," Manley said.

Michiels said Clean Wisconsin and other environmental groups believe the EPA's standards are outdated. Further, she said the lack of testing elsewhere in the state leaves residents uncertain over how widespread the problem may be.

"These communities have not been silent," Michiels said. "Their demands have really just been ignored by the legislature."

CORRECTION: In the January 31 episode of Capital City Sunday, we noted the Assembly bill addressing the discharge of firefighting form and that it did not go further than committee. A key omission was a failure to note that the Senate version of the bill passed both chambers and was signed into law last February.

The bill prohibits the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS unless it is used in an emergency firefighting response or if the entity discharging the foam during testing has an approved containment, treatment, as disposal plan approved by the DNR.

Author Profile Photo

A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

Skip to content