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Gov. Evers Visits Local Water Treatment Centers PDF Print E-mail
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Written by GOV Press Wisconsin   
Monday, 18 March 2024 10:09

clean-drinking-waterGovernor traveled to La Crosse, Marinette, Columbus, Beaver Dam, and Marshfield, highlighting National Groundwater Awareness Week, urges Republicans to release $125 Million to fight PFAS.


MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers, last week, visited wastewater treatment and water utility centers in La Crosse, Marinette, Columbus, Beaver Dam, and Marshfield to celebrate National Groundwater Awareness Week. During his visits, Gov. Evers highlighted the $125 million investment to combat PFAS statewide, made available through the 2023-25 biennial budget passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature and enacted by Gov. Evers last July, that has languished unspent in Madison for months—over 250 days—as Republican legislators have ignored repeated requests from Gov. Evers to release the critical funding. The governor declared March 10-16, 2024, “National Groundwater Awareness Week” in Wisconsin. A copy of the governor’s proclamation is available here.

tony-evers“Ensuring access to clean drinking water—including getting PFAS, lead, and other harmful contaminants out of our water—is a top priority for me and my administration,” said Gov. Evers. “$125 million to fight PFAS contaminants statewide has been sitting in Madison for over 250 days because legislative Republicans refuse to release these investments. Wisconsinites and our communities should not be forced to wait any longer than they already have for these critical funds to be released when they need help right now getting these contaminants out of our water right now. Republicans must release these already-approved funds so we can get these resources out the door to folks who need them without any further delay.”

Last Monday, Gov. Evers visited and toured the city of La Crosse’s Isle La Plume wastewater treatment plant, where he learned about work being done on the local level to maintain clean water. The city of La Crosse recently completed a $68 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, one of the largest public works projects in city history. A significant focus of the project is improving sustainability practices at the plant to meet the city’s environmental goals, including efforts to better remove phosphorus from water and to convert byproducts of wastewater into methane gas, which is then used to power the plant, allowing it to be nearly 100 percent self-sufficient. The governor was joined by State Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska), State Rep. Jill Billings (D-La Crosse), La Crosse Wastewater Treatment and Sewer Superintendent Jared Greeno, and La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds. Photos of the tour are available here and here.

Then, Gov. Evers visited and toured the Marinette Water Utility in Marinette. Since 2017, the city of Marinette has been taking measures to remediate PFAS in its drinking water. During the tour, the governor and local leaders discussed the measures they are taking to ensure clean drinking water for their residents and how the additional dollars for PFAS remediation could be used by their community. The governor was joined by Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot, Marinette Water and Wastewater Utilities Chairperson and City Council Member Ken Keller, City Council Member Rick Polzin, and Marinette Water and Wastewater Utilities operations manager Warren Howard. Photos of the tour are available here and here.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Evers visited and toured Columbus Water Utility and participated in an in-depth discussion on the work being done at the local level to provide clean water to the residents of Columbus. Recently, Columbus received an award for having the best-tasting water in the United States at the Great American Water Taste Test put on through the National Rural Water Association, which the governor got to taste test during the visit. Gov. Evers was joined by Chris Groh, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Water Association, Jake Tanner, Columbus Utilities lead water operator, and Columbus Mayor Joe Hammer, as well as local community members. Photos of the tour are available here and here

Following this, Gov. Evers visited and toured Beaver Dam Waterworks Park and met with local members of the Beaver Dam Lake District. The Lake District was specifically founded to address the low water quality from algae and phosphorus content, shoreline erosion, and agricultural runoff. The governor was joined by Beaver Dam Lake District Chairman Bill Foley and Beaver Dam Mayor Mike Wissell, as well as local area elected officials and community members. Photos of the visit are available here and here

evers-marshfield-water-utilities-2024Finally, last Thursday, Gov. Evers toured the city of Marshfield’s temporary PFAS facility and filtration system to learn how the city is working to ensure clean water for the residents of Marshfield. The governor then participated in a discussion about clean water with local officials and community members at the Marshfield Utilities office. The governor was joined by Marshfield Utilities General Manager Nick Kumm, Marshfield Utilities Assistant Water Manager Erick Boon, Marshfield Mayor Lois TeStrake, and community members. Photos of the tour are available here and here.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND ON GOV EVERS’ CALL TO RELEASE ALREADY-APPROVED FUNDS TO FIGHT PFAS STATEWIDE

The 2023-25 biennial budget that was passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature and signed by Gov. Evers in July of last year included the first real and substantive Republican effort to address PFAS after years of inaction with a $125 million investment to address and prevent PFAS contamination statewide. Now, more than 250 days later, Republican legislators have refused to release the funding and have ignored repeated requests from Gov. Evers over the past eight months to do so. Most recently, Gov. Evers urged Republican lawmakers to support a compromise proposal aimed at expeditiously releasing the $125 million investment to fight PFAS contaminants statewide, asking the Republican-controlled JFC to release funds to combat PFAS without controversial provisions to benefit polluters contained in a Republican-backed bill passed by the Legislature. The governor’s compromise proposal is functionally identical to the Republican bill passed by the Legislature, largely retaining most of the bill’s key provisions. 

Gov. Evers’ compromise proposal comes as Republicans last month passed Senate Bill (SB) 312, which neither appropriates new funding to fight PFAS nor releases any portion of the $125 million previously secured through the biennial budget process. As passed by Republicans in the Legislature, SB 312 provides no actual or immediate financial assistance to communities impacted by PFAS and, further, provides no guarantee the $125 million investment available through the biennial budget will be distributed to communities affected by PFAS contaminants to help protect and clean up local water supplies. 

Rather, SB 312 contains “poison pill” provisions designed to benefit polluters that could functionally give polluters a free pass from cleaning up their own spills and contamination. Under Wisconsin’s existing environmental protection laws, any party causing, possessing, or controlling a hazardous substance that has been released into the environment is required to clean it up. SB 312 specifically prohibits the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from taking enforcement action against polluters and contaminators so long as the polluter allows the DNR to remediate the site at the DNR’s own expense. That is, under SB 312, as passed by Republicans, so long as a polluter allows the DNR to clean up the contamination using Wisconsin taxpayer dollars, the DNR may not take enforcement action against the polluter. 

Residents of communities affected by PFAS, conservationists, clean water advocates, and Gov. Evers have repeatedly raised concerns about the provision designed to benefit polluters at taxpayers’ expense over the course of months of negotiations with Sens. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) and Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), co-authors of SB 312. The “poison pill” provision has drawn specific ire and criticism from Gov. Evers, who has spent years working to hold three Wisconsin manufacturers and 15 other defendants accountable for conduct leading directly to PFAS contamination of Wisconsin’s natural resources and trying to prevent Wisconsinites from having to foot the bill to clean up polluters’ contamination. 

Importantly, as noted above, SB 312 does not release or impact in any way the existing $125 million biennial budget investment to fight PFAS statewide. Thus, the governor vetoing SB 312 will have no effect whatsoever on whether the $125 million to combat PFAS remains available or will be released by the Republican-controlled JFC—that decision remains Republican committee members’ alone. For more than 250 days, Republican committee members have been able to release the $125 million to combat PFAS contaminants across Wisconsin at any time, and that remains the case today. 

More information on the governor’s compromise proposal is available here.

 
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