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A water researcher pours a water sample for drinking water and PFAS research , Feb. 16, 2023, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati. (AP) A water researcher pours a water sample for drinking water and PFAS research , Feb. 16, 2023, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati. (AP)

A water researcher pours a water sample for drinking water and PFAS research , Feb. 16, 2023, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati. (AP)

By Laura Schulte June 14, 2024

Wisconsin governor did veto the PFAS bill and is still asking legislators to release funding

If Your Time is short

  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill in April meant to create a clear outline on how to spend the $125 million trust fund created during the biennial budget 

  • After the veto, he has continually asked Republicans to release the funding without legislation, and simply turn it over to the Department of Natural Resources for spending.

  • Evers is not obligated to sign a bill he doesn’t agree with, any more than Republicans are required to release the funding without legislation. That has left the PFAS trust fund in limbo for now.

"Forever chemicals" have become a flashpoint for Wisconsin politics. 

Although there has been money set aside — a $125 million trust fund — to address the growing number of communities and homeowners impacted by PFAS, Republicans and Democrats disagree over how best to release the money to the state Department of Natural Resources for spending. 

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, wants the department to decide how to best spend the money to help residents. Meanwhile, Republicans say they want a clear spending plan for the money, created through legislation. 

Over the last several months, Evers has continually called for the release of the PFAS trust fund to the Department of Natural Resources, so the agency can focus on solving issues being caused by the chemicals. 

But with that call for release has also come controversy, as pointed out by state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, in April 15 on X

"Do you think he realizes that he’s using the fact that he vetoed how to spend the money to ask that we give him the money anyways?" the post said. 

Wanggaard’s post was meant as a comment on a previous post by Evers, in which the governor again called on the Legislature to "release these funds and get this important work done for folks and families across our state." 

But let’s look at Wanggaard’s claim – basically, he’s saying that Evers is asking the GOP to release money for PFAS, but "vetoed (a bill outlining) how to spend the money." 

Is that true? 

PFAS have faced a partisan battle

When asked for backup, a Wanggaard spokesperson declined to share any information about the claim. But plenty of information already exists, so let’s dive in. 

PFAS, polyfluoroalkyl substances, are widely used, long-lasting synthetic chemicals found in a wide array of consumer products including stain-resistant carpet, waterproof clothing and nonstick cookware. They’re called "forever chemicals" because they’re nearly indestructible — they don’t dissolve in water and break down slowly. Scientific studies have linked exposure to some PFAS in the environment to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

In April, Evers did veto a bill created by Republicans that outlined how they thought the $125 million trust fund should be spent. Issuing the veto, of course, is Evers’ prerogative.  

The bill included a provision that some believe could harm the Department of Natural Resources ’ authority to address PFAS contamination, and another targeted at "innocent landowners" that environmental advocates worried would excuse some PFAS manufacturers and users from having to take responsibility for a contamination. 

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Officials with the department, Evers and Republican bill authors met several times throughout the drafting process and the amendment process, but did not reach a compromise, according to an Oct. 11, 2023, report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Republicans have insisted that the veto also blocks them from releasing the funds currently held in the trust fund, the Journal Sentinel report said. 

Republicans voted along party lines to override Evers’ veto, but the Assembly — also controlled by Republicans — has offered no indication it will schedule its own vote.  

So, the matter has been left in limbo. 

Evers has repeatedly asked the Legislature to release the money. He even tried to call in the Joint Finance Committee to release the funding and his administration submitted several draft plans to the panel that outlined how the money could be spent without further legislation. 

On May 7, 2023, for example, the committee released funding from the national opioid settlement agreement, after altering the Department of Health Service’s submitted plan, according to the Journal Sentinel. 

But the committee twice refused to hold a vote. 

Republican leaders on the committee said the panel can’t hold a vote to release the funding, because "it would be essentially ignoring the governor’s veto on the bill spending the money," a May 14, 2024 report from the Journal Sentinel said.

Leadership also suggested that releasing the funding after the veto could open the Legislature up to legal action. 

Our ruling

Wanggaard claimed that despite the governor’s calls for Republicans to release the PFAS "trust fund," Evers "vetoed (a bill outlining) how to spend the money." 

Evers in April 2024 did veto a Republican-authored bill that outlined how the money could be spent, and created new programs to aid in cleaning up PFAS and protecting "innocent landowners" from being held liable for contamination on their property. 

Of course, Evers isn’t obligated to agree to the Republican plan, any more than Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee are obligated to sign off on his administration’s plans to let the DNR spend the PFAS trust fund. 

And without some sort of agreement between Republicans and Democrats, Wisconsin is unlikely to see the PFAS funding released to communities. 

We rate this claim Mostly True. While Wanggaard’s statement is accurate, it needs clarification or additional information.

 

 

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More by Laura Schulte

Wisconsin governor did veto the PFAS bill and is still asking legislators to release funding

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