Big-money lobbyists against regulating PFAS

By: - February 12, 2020 5:15 pm

Foam products used by firefighters contain PFAS. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and four other special interest groups opposed to bills aimed at regulating so-called “forever chemicals” have spent more than $13.3 million on lobbying and elections in the last five years.

The bills they oppose, Assembly Bills 842 and 843 and Senate Bills 772 and 773, would fund research, clean-up efforts, and create enforcement standards for PFAS, which are hazardous chemicals that do not break down in the environment or human body.

The chemicals, which have been found in drinking water, lakes and streams in some parts of the state, are used in firefighting foam, food packaging, and cookware. Some of the substances have been linked to cancer.

The bipartisan measures received public hearings last week but face an uncertain future because the GOP-controlled legislature plans to adjourn for the year in March.

The bills are mostly backed by numerous environmental groups. But business and manufacturing groups claim the bills are too costly and restrictive for business.

Collectively, the five groups that oppose the bills have spent nearly $8.5 million on electioneering activities and campaign contributions between January 2015 and June 2019 – all to benefit Republican legislative and statewide candidates. In addition, they have spent more than $4.8 million on lobbying between January 2015 and December 2019. Here’s a snapshot of who they are:

  • WMC, the state’s largest business group. WMC is consistently one of the biggest spenders on lobbying and state elections. WMC has spent nearly $8.5 million since January 2015 on disclosed and secret electioneering activities to benefit GOP candidates. The group has also spent nearly $3.5 million since January 2015 on lobbying for pro-business policies; 
  • Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, which supports pro-business lawsuits and other legal reforms that make it harder to sue businesses and reduce damage awards. The group has spent about $598,100 on lobbying between January 2015 and December 2019. In recent years, the group supported laws that cut the statute of limitations for filing some lawsuits, weakened the state’s lemon law, and reduced liability in some damage and injury lawsuits. 
  • Midwest Food Products Association, a trade group that represents food processors. Between January 2015 and December 2019 that group spent $398,130 on lobbying agriculture, environmental, and labor laws favorable to the food processing industry. In recent years, the group has supported laws that prohibit local governments from passing labor ordinances for wage and discrimination claims and loosen state rules and oversight involving controversial high-capacity wells; 
  • Wisconsin Paper Council, which represents the state’s papermakers. The group has spent about $233,900 on lobbying between January 2015 and December 2019 and another $2,350 on campaign contributions – all to Republicans – between January 2015 and June 2019. In the past, the group has backed laws that prevent state agencies from creating new rules or regulations that would cost businesses more than $10 million without legislative approval and forbid communities from regulating plastic bags, takeout containers and other packaging, including coffee cup insulating sleeves; 
  • American Chemistry Council, a trade group that spent about $135,000 between January 2015 and December 2019 on lobbying for laws that affect the chemical and plastics industries. This group also backed the law prohibiting local bans on plastic bags and other single-use containers and packaging.

In a related development, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation last week that puts restrictions on using firefighting foams that contain PFAS.

This piece was first published on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign website.

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Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild

Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign at the start of 2015, Matt worked at The Progressive magazine for 32 years. For most of those, he was the editor and publisher of The Progressive.