Wisconsin State Legislature blocks PFAS progress and puts politics before the people’s right to clean water

Oct 25, 2023 | Drinking Water, Groundwater

There is one thing we know for sure: Wisconsin is a water state. Our water defines us and sustains us. The news about Wisconsin’s water – and the state leaders who have the responsibility and power to manage our water resources – in the last week has us questioning our leaders’ priorities.

First, it’s clear that state legislators are putting politics ahead of the public’s interest in having clean drinking water. Senate Bill 312 was intended to outline a plan for spending $125 million in our state budget to help communities and individuals with PFAS-contaminated drinking water. We had a chance to truly help families who have polluted well water or cities that have had to shut down public drinking water wells due to companies that produced and disposed of products with “forever chemicals.” 

Instead, legislators waited until the eleventh hour to share an amended bill that could shift the burden of paying for clean up from those responsible to taxpayers, and environmental groups and leaders in affected communities spoke out against the changes. Fortunately Governor Evers approved the release of federal infrastructure funds to help cities deal with PFAS pollution as well as lead pipes, but rural families with private wells need more help to have safe drinking water.  

Second, state legislators continued to dig in their heels and refused to let our state government function by rejecting four of Governor Evers’ extremely qualified appointees to the Natural Resources Board. They also never confirmed the DNR Secretary. This week, Secretary Adam Payne quit, the Governor appointed a new round of NRB members that are yet to be voted on, and we are left in limbo with unconfirmed leadership. We must have a DNR Secretary and NRB members who have the power and the will to set strict groundwater standards for PFAS if we are going to meaningfully help Wisconsinites have safe drinking water. 

Like we are seeing in Congress, by sewing dysfunction in our state government, legislative leaders are blocking progress on very serious issues. The thousands of residents who cannot drink their water because of contamination from PFAS and other toxins is just the start. We have flooding issues due to extreme rain events. We are losing farmers every day. Funding for the public lands that make our recreation industry sustainable and enjoyed by everyone is subject to political games. 

If we acted together, we could effectively take on these challenges. Instead, legislative leaders are intentionally attempting to hold onto power despite losing statewide elections. And they are still threatening to impeach a duly elected state supreme court justice only if the outcome of a case that threatens their power has a result they don’t like. 

Wisconsin deserves better. Wisconsin has been better. We need to get back to honestly working for the benefit of everyone, not just the powerful few.

– Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Director and Bill Davis, Senior Legal Analyst


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