MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Republicans on Thursday announced plans to put $125 million aside to combat pollution from so-called forever chemicals, putting off a decision on what exactly to spend the money on.
The influx of money to deal with PFAS pollution comes as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers made it a priority in his budget, allocating more than $100 million for additional testing, new positions, additional water testing and grants.
The Republican-controlled budget-writing committee took a different approach, announcing plans to vote Thursday on spending $125 million but not specifying what it should be used for other than combatting PFAS.
“We need to give ourselves time to find the right solutions,” said Republican Sen. Eric Wimberger, of Green Bay, at a news conference.
There will be follow-up legislation to spell out how the money will be spent, said Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.
The committee was to approve the spending Thursday night as it works on creating the two-year spending plan, which takes effect in July.
“The Legislature is taking this problem very seriously,” said committee co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein.
Democrats, including Evers, have called for enacting tough standards about acceptable levels of PFAS in the water, moves that have met resistance from Republicans and the state’s business community.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that don’t easily break down in nature. They’re found in a wide range of products, including cookware, firefighting foam and stain-resistant clothing. 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 their groundwater, including Marinette, Madison, Wausau and the town of Campbell on French Island. The waters of Green Bay also are contaminated. The state Department of Natural Resources has issued an advisory warning people to limit their consumption of fish from the bay of Green Bay as well as from portions of the Peshtigo, Oconto and Menominee rivers due to PFAS contamination.
Republicans have passed bills in recent years restricting the use of firefighting foam that contains PFAS, but have resisted doing anything more substantial amid concerns from industry and wastewater treatment operators that clean-up and filtration efforts and new well construction would cost tens of millions of dollars.
The Evers’ administration adopted regulations last year establishing limits on PFAS in surface and drinking water. Conservatives on the Department of Natural Resources’ policy board blocked a proposal to limit the chemicals in well water, however.
Evers’ administration has since relaunched an attempt to write standards for PFAS in well water. The governor’s budget lays out a multipronged approach for dealing with the chemicals as well.
Republicans previously stripped language from Evers’ budget that called for restricting PFAS levels in state waters and air and requiring the DNR to create rules on how to determine financial liability for PFAS contamination.
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