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Budget committee OKs adding two DNR scientists

Republicans on the state’s powerful budget-writing committee voted on Tuesday to establish two new scientist positions at the Department of Natural Resources, falling short of the five Evers had wanted.

Evers wanted to restore five of 18 research-scientist positions cut by Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015. The cuts were made to stop the department from studying climate change and the harmful effects of mining as Walker and legislative

Republicans were trying to lure a mining company to the state.

The two new positions Republicans approved would be charged with researching water pollution, particularly from polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Those are man-made chemicals found in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including fast-food wrappers and stain-resistant sprays. Contamination from PFAS has been documented at more than 170 sites in 40 states, including Wisconsin. But the state DNR said it can’t engage in research or provide information about PFAS contamination in the state without additional staff.

Democrats have introduced a bill calling on the DNR to set standards meant to limit the presence of the contaminant in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, air and soil, and to establish monitoring requirements. Republicans have a smaller bill dealing only with limiting the use of PFAS in firefighting foam.

The budget committee approved spending $200,000 to study the extent and locations of PFAS contamination in Wisconsin.

The committee also voted to increase by $4 million the state’s borrowing authority to pay for cleaning up contaminated sediment from lakes Superior and Michigan and their tributaries. That was $21 million less than Evers had wanted.

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