Last month, State Representative John Nygren of Marinette and State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at mitigating pollution from PFAS chemicals.
That “compromise” bill was introduced as an alternative to legislation proposed by a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Hansen, last year, but it stalled in the Legislature following opposition from manufacturing interests in the state.
Late Thursday night, Assembly Republicans amended a bill about bidding requirements for lake rehabilitation projects to require that the Department of Natural Resources request funding to address PFAS in the next state budget.
Hansen says there’s “absolutely no comparison” between the amendment and the compromise bill.
“They’re doing absolutely the least they can do to get around this because it’s [about] economics. The welfare and health of people is definitely secondary,” Hansen says.
The amendment would also allow the DNR to recover the costs of “testing, investigations, and providing temporary potable water” from local fire departments and communities that have used fire fighting foam containing PFAS in the past.
In a press release Friday, Senator Hansen described that provision as “a complete turnaround” from the compromise legislation’s attempt to “hold local taxpayers harmless for the costs of cleanup.”
“The people that would be held responsible [if this amendment passes] would be the communities, the firefighters, and private people that use fire foam rather than the responsible party. The responsible party in my mind are the people that produced the fire foam that has been used, has contaminated wells, and [has] made people sick,” Hansen says.
Last December, the Madison Fire Department became the first department in a major Wisconsin city to change to PFAS-free foam.
During Thursday’s floor session, in response to claims that the amendment would impede the state’s ability to pursue “real PFAS reform,” Nygren said he wanted to at least “begin a conversation” about PFAS contamination.
“While this isn’t the that bill I proposed, I do believe it is a step forward that will help my constituents. I don’t want to walk away from this opportunity without providing some answers, maybe not the ones I completely desire, but some answers and certainty for my constituents,” Nygren said.
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, a group that aims to elect pro-conservation candidates and hold them accountable, says Nygren failed to protect his constituents.
Ryan Billingham, Communications Director for the organization, describes the district Nygren represents as “ground zero” for PFAS contamination.
“He had a year or more to really get something done for his constituents and he failed,” Billingham says.
“We’ll make sure that not only his constituents know that, but everybody across the state understands there was a bipartisan opportunity to do something meaningful for the people in Marinette and Peshtigo and that area, but also for people that are finding PFAS in their drinking water across the state. So, we’re going to remind folks that Representative Nygren failed to do anything meaningful for his constituents as far as protecting their drinking water [goes].” [32 sec.]
The bill now awaits action in the Senate, which is scheduled to meet — and conclude its session — next month.