Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Environment / Evers addresses PFAS in budget plan

Evers addresses PFAS in budget plan


PFAS foam washes up in June 2018 on the shoreline of Van Etten Lake in Oscoda Township, Michigan. Gov. Tony Evers’ biennial budget includes about $11 million in proposals to address PFAS and other hazardous contaminants in the state. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)


Gov. Tony Evers’ biennial budget includes about $11 million more in newly announced proposals to address PFAS and other hazardous contaminants in the state, but it’s unclear whether the measures will garner enough support in the Republican-led Legislature.

The proposals are part of the more than $116 million overall Evers has recommended in his budget to address PFAS — including $100 million for a municipal grant program to help local governments respond to PFAS contamination he announced in his State of the State address. The new measures aim to provide funds for the state’s Well Compensation Grant Program, provide grants to address hazardous substances and environmental pollution, and implement emergency measures related to PFAS contamination.

Some Republicans have said they are open to Evers’ plans. But GOP Joint Finance Committee Co-chairs Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, this week said they will work off current spending levels to build their own version of the biennial budget.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “forever chemicals,” are a series of chemicals found in industrial and everyday products, including firefighting foam and non-stick cookware. They do not break down easily in the environment and are linked to several diseases and cancers in humans. PFAS have been discovered in areas across Wisconsin, including in Dane, Marinette, Marathon and La Crosse counties, and more recently in the town of Stella in Oneida County.

Evers, at a recent appearance at Fiskars in Middleton, said there will be some sort of compromise on the issue.

“There has to be. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be expecting municipalities to foot that bill,” Evers said. “And frankly, there’s no reason why those companies that make PFAS and put those PFAS in the water should be able to get away with it.”

The new measures Evers include:

  • $8.2 million in segregated revenue to remove waste materials at abandoned properties, and to fund a permanent position to provide grants and services to address hazardous substances and environmental pollution under the Revitalize Wisconsin Initiative. Evers proposed to absorb the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response fund, a reimbursement program to help dry cleaners pay to investigate and clean up dry cleaning facilities, into the initiative.
  • $1.8 million in segregated revenue for emergency measures related to PFAS contamination.
  • $1 million for financial assistance under the state’s well compensation program. The governor also recommended putting the program’s contamination criteria in line with federal water quality standards and expanding the financial requirements to apply to more Wisconsinites.

In addition to the new proposals and the $100 million for the grant program, other PFAS-related proposals in the budget include:

  • $3.9 million in segregated revenue for PFAS sampling and research, including for 11 full-time positions, 10 of which would be permanent.
  • $1 million in segregated revenue to collect and dispose of PFAS-containing firefighting foam. The measure recommends allowing the Department of Natural Resources to help fire departments purchase firefighting foam that doesn’t contain PFAS.
  • $200,000 in GPR for awareness and outreach related to PFAS.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Executive Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley told the business association is open to the idea of providing grants to local governments for PFAS remediation, referencing Evers’ $100 million proposal.

“I think that it makes some sense to do that,” Manley said.

He said it will be up to the Legislature to determine an appropriate amount of money to provide, especially considering money the state is set to receive for PFAS remediation through the federal infrastructure law.

Manley said the other PFAS-related measures Evers included should be introduced as separate legislation.

“The other items are policy-related, and we do not think that the budget process is the appropriate place to do PFAS policy,” Manley said. “Those policies should be debated on their own, outside of the budget process. And we don’t believe that they belong in our state’s two-year fiscal budget.”

Sen. Robert Cowles, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, at a hearing last month indicated lawmakers would move to address PFAS contamination in the state. He noted the big challenge would be whether to provide more funding and how much.

The Green Bay Republican told while he may not agree with every detail in the governor’s proposal, he wants to act to improve water quality. Cowles said he’s “optimistic” that the Legislature will make progress on PFAS. But he also said he hadn’t spoken to many of his GOP colleagues about the issue, and the few conversations had been very general in nature.

“It has not been extensive, and it’s undetermined exactly where that’s going,” Cowles said.

Cowles said he has spoken with fellow Republicans on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and they were in the process of looking for support for the more than $100 million proposal Evers previously announced in the budget for municipal grants to address PFAS contamination.

He noted the Legislature had successfully passed measures related to PFAS in the past, including to hire a contractor to clean up and dispose of firefighting foam for the Department of Natural Resources and ban training with PFAs-containing firefighting foam.

Cowles argued families don’t want the chemicals in their drinking water even if it has tested for less than the 70 parts per trillion limit approved by the state Natural Resources Board.

“So you’ve got that political pressure and, you know, it could be dangerous even at a lower level. So that’s something we’ve got to wrestle with: at what level are those monies made available?” Cowles said. “You know, I’m leaning at this point to allow it to go to those communities even when it’s less than the 70 as picked by the DNR board.”

The standards the NRB approved last year were lower than the Department of Health Services recommendation of 20 ppt. The board, which had a majority of appointees by former GOP Gov. Scott Walker at the time, rejected the proposal in favor of the less restrictive Environmental Protection Agency standard.

Sen. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, who is also on the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said she was pleased to hear Cowles at the recent informational hearing mention a bipartisan effort to address PFAS. She said she is hopeful Republicans will support Evers’ budget proposal.

“I think one thing that that hearing showed everybody is that PFAS is everywhere. It’s not just in one corner of the state, and it really affects all of us,” Hesselbein said. “And when it comes to the health and the welfare of Wisconsinites, I would hope that we could all be on board to do as much as we can with what we have to make our water clean.”

Hesselbein said she believes Republicans are open to looking at PFAS mitigation because it’s affecting the communities they represent.

“I think there’s a good way forward, and I think that they’re on board that we need to solve this problem,” Hesselbein said.

Republicans Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Rob Swearingen told they support Evers’ proposal to include $100 million for a municipal grant program in the state budget to address PFAS contamination. Both Felzkowski and Swearingen’s districts house the town of Stella, where the DNR last month found levels of PFAS contamination above health guidelines in 24 of 38 private wells sampled.

The agency issued health advisories for those wells, making the homeowners eligible to apply for the state’s Well Compensation Grant Program. The program provides funding up to $16,000 per grant to help Wisconsinites pay to replace, rebuild or treat contaminated wells. There is an income limit of $100,000.

Felzkowski, who is a JFC member, in a statement to ahead of Evers’ budget address said although she supports Evers’ proposal, “the devil is always in the details.”

“We may need to look at how the Well Compensation Fund is structured to ensure that we can utilize those dollars in the correct way, but I’m hopeful we can work together to get something accomplished,” the Irma Republican said.

Felzkowski said the challenge for the town of Stella is that the source of contamination is still unknown.

“The state responded swiftly by providing everyone with clean drinking water, but this is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem,” she said.

Swearingen told now that JFC co-chairs have decided to start the budget from base levels, “the funding is kind of out the window.” He said he will actively work with JFC members, including Felzkowski, to support the funding, which he said he is still open to supporting, despite the additional funds Evers announced this week.

“I think he gives us some interesting options to explore. But at the end of the day, I’ll have to work with the Joint Finance Committee to see, you know, what’s going to be palatable for the state,” Swearingen said.

He also noted 11 new positions Evers had requested, which he said “might be excessive,” arguing the governor might be taking advantage of PFAS to boost positions at the DNR.

Swearingen last week told he thinks his Republican colleagues are more conscious of the problem than before.

“But I would also argue that unless it directly affects you and your district, it isn’t something that’s necessarily immediately on your front burner,” Swearingen said.

He said clean drinking water isn’t a partisan issue, so the discussion could come down to how much to spend addressing PFAS.

“I think everybody agrees that you should be able to go to your kitchen sink and turn the tap on and the water should be potable. And so I like to think that we could certainly have some agreement here,” Swearingen said. “My guess is if there’s any argument, it’ll be how much one side wants to spend versus the other.”

The Capitol Report is written by the editorial staff at, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *