Wisconsin bill would tie PFAS grants to lawsuit immunity

By Scott Bauer, Associated Press

The Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would create a new $10 million grant program to help communities clean up contamination from “forever chemicals” known as PFAS but would ban them from suing those responsible for the pollution.

Democrats blasted the measure as irresponsible, while Republican supporters said the bill would help communities cope with PFAS pollution.

“This was a broad approach to try and help our municipalities,” said bill sponsor Rep. Elijah Behnke, R-Marinette. “Is it perfect? No. But I don’t think any legislation is.”

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, called the bill “insidious” for not allowing grant recipients to file lawsuits.

“This bill puts special interests above the health and safety of the people of Wisconsin,” said Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse.

The Republican-backed measure has the support of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group that represents manufacturers and other corporations. The group’s lobbyist, Scott Manley, said in written testimony supporting the proposal at a hearing earlier this month that it would help address the harm caused by PFAS while protecting businesses and local governments from “costly and frivolous lawsuits.”

Under the bill, any local government that accepts a grant is barred from bringing any legal action against the person or party responsible for the contamination. Grants could also not be awarded to any entity that has already received an award from a lawsuit.

The proposed $10 million annual grant program would be funded with money from the federal coronavirus relief bill. Recipients would have to match 20% of the grant.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down in the environment. They have been used for decades in a range of products, including stain-resistant sprays and firefighting foam and have been an issue in communities across Wisconsin, with some of the worst pollution in Marinette and La Crosse.

The grants could be used for a wide range of PFAS-related issues, including well sampling and pollution remediation.

The bill passed on a party line 60-38 vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against. It now heads to the Senate. If it passes there, it would then go to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for his consideration.