Environmental Policy: DNR Budget, PFAS Legislation, NRB Appointments

There have been several significant updates on environmental policy in Wisconsin, including PFAS, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the 2023-25 state budget.

Finance Committee Approves DNR Budget Motions

The Joint Committee on Finance held an executive session May 18 to vote on budget motions related to DNR, the Environmental Improvement Fund (EIF), and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The motions were approved by party-line votes with the committee’s four Democratic members voting against. The committee amended and approved an omnibus motion affecting DNR and the EIF, including the following notable provisions and funding changes:

  • Create a PFAS trust fund to address and prevent PFAS contamination; provide $125 million in initial funding
  • Increase the revenue bonding authorization for the EIF by $46 million
  • Create a new continuing appropriation for well compensation and well abandonment grants
  • Delete or transfer several dozen DNR staff positions, including 36.71 FTE positions that have been vacant for at least 18 months
  • Increase various nonresident hunting, fishing, and camping fees

Republicans Introduce PFAS Reform Bill

Several Republican legislators have proposed a bill to address PFAS remediation, testing, grant programs, and other issues. The bill is apparently intended to be passed alongside the 2023-25 state budget and includes language to implement PFAS-related funding authorized by the Joint Committee on Finance.

The bill was authored by Sens. Wimberger and Cowles (both R-Green Bay) and Reps. Mursau (R-Crivitz) and Swearingen (R-Rhinelander). More information from the bill’s authors is available in a press release and co-sponsorship memo.

Provisions in the bill include:

  • Creating a municipal PFAS grant program for purposes such as testing, disposal of PFAS-containing biosolids, and capital costs or debt service related to water infrastructure
  • Creating an innocent landowner grant program
  • Limiting DNR’s authority to require PFAS testing at a brownfield property without evidence of PFAS contamination
  • Limiting DNR’s authority to intervene in a development or public works project due to PFAS contamination
  • Limiting DNR’s authority to conduct PFAS sampling on private land without permission and prohibiting PFAS enforcement actions unless PFAS levels exceed state or federal requirements
  • Adding PFAS-related specifications to existing water-related grant programs, including specifying how the well compensation grant program can be used for PFAS filtration
  • Providing a process for water utilities to quickly respond to PFAS contamination
  • Surveying local fire departments about PFAS-containing firefighting foam and continuing the foam collection program
  • Requiring DNR to begin response and remediation actions at any PFAS site without an identifiable responsible party or when the identified responsible party is unable to pay
  • Creating a program to reduce the cost of PFAS testing
  • Creating a portable water treatment system pilot program

Gov. Evers Reshapes Natural Resources Board with Three More Appointments

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB) is now comprised entirely of Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) appointees. The seven-member board oversees policy for DNR, including review and approval of department rules and land purchase agreements. The terms of former board members Terry Hilgenberg and Greg Kazmierski expired May 1; they were the last remaining members appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker (R). To replace Hilgenberg and Kazmierski, Gov. Evers appointed Dylan Bizhikiins Jennings and Jim VandenBrook to new six-year terms, effective immediately.

Jennings, a Lake Superior Chippewa citizen, is a doctoral fellow at UW-Madison in the Earth Partnership program. He previously served as an elected council member of the Bad River Tribe and as the public information officer for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

VandenBrook retired in 2018 as executive director of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association and previously worked for 26 years as the water quality section chief of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Gov. Evers also reappointed Paul Buhr, a dairy farmer from Viroqua, to a full term. In January, the governor appointed Buhr to serve the final months of a retiring member’s term.