Saturday, July 17, 2021

You know what improves the environment? REGULATIONS AND ENFORCEMENT!

You know PFAS are a problem in Wisconsin when even the WMC-owned Republicans want to give communities $10 million to help clean up these chemicals from their groundwater. It made me wonder what was hiding inside the bill because it was too close to good, honest governance, which is not what this crew is about.

Sure enough, there’s a catch in the WisGOP bill that allows companies to avoid consequences for the damage that they caused.
A memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel says in addition to precluding those claims, the bill may also prevent the Department of Natural Resources from bringing enforcement action under the state’s environmental remediation law.

While it does not explicitly reference DNR enforcement actions, the memo says, the bill precludes any action against a person responsible for contamination that is the basis for a grant.

So, if grant money were used for remediation or some other improvement to a property, “then a plain language reading of the bill suggests that DNR could be precluded from bringing an enforcement action with respect to that property.”

According to the memo, the bill could even preclude enforcement actions unrelated to PFAS contamination, including crimes.

“While a court would likely view such an interpretation as absurd or unreasonable, it is significantly less clear how a court would interpret the provision in the context of DNR enforcement actions under the environmental remediation law,” it states.
This is a classic GOP/oligarch move – do a small gesture or payoff that pre-empts the violators from being held accountable, and to keep real change from being put in place. And as the number of Wisconsin communities with PFAS contamination continues to grow, that $10 million may not go very far.

In what may or may not be coincidence, the Wisconsin Examiner contrasted the WisGOP/WMC cover-up bill on PFAS with stronger regulations and oversight that may be coming at the Federal level.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan, a former top environmental official in North Carolina, said the agency is currently in the process of regulating two of the most studied types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water.

Two Michigan Democrats, U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, added that House Democratic leaders will bring the PFAS Action Act of 2021, which aims to reduce Americans’ exposure to the toxic chemicals in air, water and consumer products, to a floor vote next week.

“We recognize PFAS is an urgent health challenge,” Regan said. “We’re committed to working with all stakeholders to protect the health and safety of all of our communities.”…

…Dingell, who is leading the bipartisan PFAS Action Act, along with Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, expressed her frustration with a lack of federal standards set for the chemicals in drinking water, as well as cleaning standards.

Her bill would designate two types of PFAS—perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS—as hazardous substances, which would kick-start federal cleanup standards, particularly on military bases.
On related environmental news, I saw a segment on Chris Hayes’ show on Thursday, and wanted to share some of it with you. Hayes starts by mentioning how California has done far better than the rest of the nation over the last 50 years in limiting carbon emissions.
One of the most important aspects of climate policy is what`s called a clean energy standard. It`s just a way for the government to tell utility companies look, you got to get this much clean energy in your energy generation. And you can`t admit as much carbon as you used to. And then, every year they can ratchet that down.

That creates all sorts of positive incentives for consumer use. And if you pair that with regulations on efficiency, you can really start to make a difference.

Here`s a look at California, which has done both, clean energy standard and it`s got incredible regulations on efficiency. There`s the divergence between how much energy they consume in California and how much they consume in the U.S. That`s all just regulation doing its job.

Then Hayes discusses energy initiatives in the infrastructure bills that are going through Congress with Minnesota US Sen. Tina Smith. Not only is Smith impressive in how thorough she is on energy issues, but Hayes brings up how real regulation with benchmarks seems more effective than waiting on the utility companies to do the right thing.
HAYES: ...I become convinced that basically just saying to the utilities, like, here`s what you got to do, figure out how to do it, actually is the best way to drive down emissions.

SEN SMITH: Yes, and it`s an incentive. And let`s be honest, everybody sort of likes an incentive. They like to be said -- they`d like to hear, OK, here`s the direction we go, this is what we`re going to do. This is the direction to head and we`re going to help you get there and we`re going to help you get there faster, because I mean, we don`t have a lot of time to pussyfoot around here, we need to move quickly. We can`t wait for you know, another 30 or 40 years to clean up our grid.

And so, that I think is the power of this idea. And when you combine it with all of the policies that we also have included in this -- in this piece of legislation, you know, electric charging stations and incentives to build out a smart grid, tax incentives for building clean electricity. All of that comes together to be a truly transformational policy.
Let's hope we get that out of one of these infrastructure bills - that there be some kind of limit and regulation to go along with incentives to have industries transition over into energy choices that help us long-term. But as we see in Wisconsin, it's rules and regulations that have to be part of the equation, or else the polluters won't be held to account for the damage they cause. And they won't change unless the benefits of polluting are more than the costs of changing.


  1. Just want to point out that the bill that lets the PFAS polluters off the hook (while masquerading as cleanup assistance) was introduced by Elijah Behnke, the NE Wisconsin Republican representing Marinette, where the PFAS contamination is particularly bad. (As the State Journal article mentions, Robin Vos's office helped Behnke write the bill.) Behnke's constituents are suffering, and he bails out the bad guys.

    1. It needs to be stressed repeatedly that these WisGOP puppets in the Legislature are taking orders from Robbin’ Vos and the oligarchs at WMC, and don’t give a whit as to what happens to their local communities in the process.

      And that won’t change until Republicans LOSE in big numbers. At least we have a DNR that isn’t paid off by polluters at this time (only because Evers is Governor).