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Wimberger: Ruling wasn’t a surprise, governor can act

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(The Center Square) – State Sen. Eric Wimberger said the Wisconsin appellate court’s decision this week to require the Department of Natural Resources to wait for lawmakers to set PFAS standards is not surprising.

The governor, he says, could act.

“Essentially the DNR was ordering someone to remediate pollution without describing a level to which the person was to remediate,” Wimberger told The Center Square. “Without a limit set in that circumstance, the requirement is technically an arbitrary regulation.”

PFAS, an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Studies vary on their harmful effects; more is known about their impact on animals than on humans. PFAS, the Environmental Protection Agency says, “are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation” and throughout the world.

Democrats in Wisconsin, including the governor and Attorney General Josh Kaul, said the court’s decision will delay their efforts to clean up Wisconsin’s drinking water.

But Wimberger said the governor and the attorney general could take action today, without waiting for the Legislature or the state Supreme Court.

“They can issue an emergency order on PFAS levels,” Wimberger said. “They could actually do research to trigger other enforcement sections in the Spills Law for anything ‘hazardous’ that may be discharged into the environment. Attorney General Kaul has an active lawsuit that he started a month or two before his election more than two years ago. Has he even done any depositions or interrogatories? Is there even a trial schedule?”

Wimberger also said the DNR could act on PFAS.

“The DNR could have used other parts of the Spills Law to accomplish what they set out to do,” he said. “They could have actually done the work to show that the amount of pollution was, in fact, to a level hazardous to human health. That would have taken merely some research, quantifiable data, and expert testimony about it. The DNR failed in this case because it was lazy, did not build a case to prove the pollution levels reached a level hazardous to human health, and thinks it can just order people around.”

Wimberger’s plan would use $125 million in grant money to help local communities test, and deal with PFAS chemicals when those communities find them.

Wimberger said the hold-up is not because of point-of-source polluters. He says the governor wants the Department of Natural Resources to be able to order any landowner who finds PFAS chemicals on their land or in their water into long, and costly remediation programs.

“I think Governor Evers and the DNR do not take action on PFAS because they think they have a good political issue by blaming Republicans for something they can fix,” Wimberger said. “I think it will backfire on them.”

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