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State Republicans withhold $125 million in vital government funds — here's what they want in return

"At this point in time it looks like the JFC is not going to release those dollars."

"At this point in time it looks like the JFC is not going to release those dollars."

Photo Credit: iStock

Wisconsin Republicans are refusing to release $125 million allocated for PFAS cleanup in drinking water unless the parties responsible for the contamination receive immunity. 

What's happening?

The Guardian reported that over 350,000 residents of the Badger State rely on a public drinking water system contaminated with PFAS well above the EPA-established limit of four parts per trillion. Madison, Wisconsin's state capital, has had water sources measured at 180,000 ppt. 

Bipartisan budget legislation designated $125 million for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to address this issue and received approval from the GOP-led legislature and a signature from Gov. Tony Evers in mid-2023.

However, the legislature has claimed that the joint finance committee it oversees can dictate how and when the money is spent or outright refuse to release the funds. Republican lawmakers also submitted a revised framework to disperse the $125 million while exempting industries contributing to the PFAS pollution, which Evers vetoed. 

The Department of Natural Resources responded by agreeing to the Republicans' proposal but would hold polluting industries accountable for their actions. The legislature rejected the renegotiated terms and is now on break for the rest of the year. 

Funding supporters believe that the withholding is a political stunt by the GOP to control Evers' administration and the rest of the Democratic party. 

"It is definitely a power grab," said Erik Kanter, government relations director of Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy group lobbying on PFAS issues.

Why is the PFAS contamination concerning?

"People really feel like they're being held hostage," added Lee Donahue, the Health, Education, and Welfare Supervisor in Campbell. "It's ridiculous, and some would argue that it's criminal, that they are withholding money from communities in dire need of clean drinking water."

Campbell has had over 500 wells contaminated with PFAS "at levels up to thousands of times above federal limits," per the Guardian

PFAS are toxic substances used to make products water-, stain- and heat-resistant and are known as "forever chemicals" because they do not break down under natural circumstances. 

They have been linked to numerous adverse health effects, including liver and kidney cancers, reproductive issues, and increased risks of asthma and thyroid disease.

What's being done about the funding withholding and the contamination?

The Evers administration announced on May 13 that it would sue the committee for an unconstitutional legislative veto by withholding the $125 million.

The lawsuit seems to be part of a larger movement against companies that use PFAS. For example, California has taken legal action against plastic manufacturers like 3M and DuPont. 

"At this point in time it looks like the JFC is not going to release those dollars," Kanter said. "That money has been sitting there for almost a year and nobody has gotten any help because of political games in the legislature."

Donahue noted that communities across the state are struggling as they wait for action. La Crosse city and county has spent $1 million to prevent a PFAS plume in their water sources from contaminating a neighboring aquifer it might utilize in the future.

"What do we do?" Donahue asked. "We can't afford to wait another year for help."

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