Evers joins 14 governors pushing Congress to address PFAS in defense bill

By: and - September 19, 2019 9:59 am

“Well” by Mamboman1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Gov. Tony Evers joined a group of 14 other Democratic and Republican  governors in sending a letter Wednesday to both the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees backing provisions related to per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act. 

In August, Evers issued an executive order on PFAS chemicals, which are found in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and fast-food packaging, among other things. Because of their use in fighting fires, PFAS are found in many current and former military bases and airports around the country.  PFAS have leached into groundwater, surface water and nearby private wells used for drinking water in many locations.

Gov. Tony Evers

Evers’ order included the formation of a PFAS Coordinating Council working between departments that have a primary role in this issue. The Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection and the Department of Health Services will be involved. In mid-June DHS proposed a new set of  enforcement standards for groundwater quality standards recommendations as part of the state’s process to protect public health, including PFAS.

Evers has made working with other governors in the region on this issue a priority, but called for a greater focus inside Wisconsin as well.  “I’ve been working alongside governors and stakeholders from across the Great Lakes region to address this issue, but we have to start taking this issue more seriously here at home,” Evers said in a statement.

“I am committed to protecting our state’s natural resources and ensuring every Wisconsinite has access to clean drinking water,” added Evers. “In the Year of Clean Drinking Water, I’m proud that my cabinet is working with communities, citizens, and businesses to address PFAS contamination across our state.”

Currently, Wisconsin is confronting PFAS pollution through a Water Quality Task Force chaired by Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), which is now working on a report after months of public hearings and testimony, that is expected to come out in November, according to his office. The Department of Natural Resources is also holding monthly hearings in Marinette, Wis. where a Tyco plant has been at the center of the PFAS concerns in the state.

However, the governors sent their letter to Congress because President Donald Trump’s administration has taken issue with several state-level  efforts to confront PFAS.

Wisconsin’s next door neighbor, Michigan, is one of the national leaders on PFAS clean up and took a lead in sending the letter. 

“While Michigan has become a leader when it comes to identifying and cleaning up PFAS contamination, it’s clear that federal action is needed to further address PFAS, including contamination in and around military sites,” said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Wisconsin Examiner’s sibling news outlet, the Michigan Advance, has detailed a new report that shows more Michigan military sites that tested positive for PFAS contamination, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG). Michigan has the largest number of PFAS contaminated sites in the United States, although the high number reflects the state’s aggressive testing and sampling program.

“We can look right next door to Michigan to see a great example of how to set a standard for PFAS, do intensive testing and be aggressive on this issue,” said Rep. Staush Gruszynski. “Wisconsin is way behind Canada and Michigan and Pennsylvania on this issue.”

Other governors who signed the letter are: Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, John Carney of Delaware, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Jay Inslee of Washington, Ralph Northam of Virginia, Phil Scott of Vermont, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Tim Walz of Minnesota and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, all signed onto the letter.

They urge that final legislation include the strongest provisions from both the U.S. House and Senate bills, to:

  • Require EPA to set an enforceable, nationwide drinking water standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS within two years of enactment, while preserving states’ authority to enact their own, more stringent standards.  
  • Require the EPA to list PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) within one year. 
  • Require the EPA to revise the list of toxic pollutants under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) to include PFAS and publish effluent and pretreatment standards.  
  • Phase out the use of PFAS in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) as quickly as possible.  
  • Urge the DoD to finalize cooperative agreements with states and partner with governors to test, monitor, remove, and remediate PFAS contamination originating from DoD activities, including at decommissioned military installations and National Guard facilities. Require that if a cooperative agreement is not reached within one year of the request from a state, the Secretary of Defense must report to Congress with an explanation of why an agreement has not been reached. Remediation should satisfy both federal and state/local remediation targets. 
  • Grant the National Guard Bureau access to specific environmental remediation program funding in FY 2020. 
  • Authorize the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to develop advanced testing methods capable of detecting PFAS, and to conduct nationwide sampling for these chemicals – focusing first on areas near drinking water with known or suspected PFAS contamination.   
  • Require the DoD to treat and clean PFAS-contaminated water used for agricultural purposes. 
  • Require public disclosure, as part of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) annual reports, when environmental releases of about 200 PFAS chemicals occur – including PFOS and PFOA


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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.