By Shereen Siewert

The grassroots environmental advocacy group Citizens for a Clean Wausau is one of several organizations that will intervene in a lawsuit initiated by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that seeks to eliminate PFAS regulation.

The lawsuit was filed in February in Waukesha County Circuit Court by the WMC against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. Leather Rich, Inc., an Oconomowoc-based dry cleaning company, is also a plaintiff in the suit. WMC is Wisconsin’s manufacturers’ association and statewide chamber of commerce.

Tony Wilkin Gibart, of Midwest Environmental Advocates, said the lawsuit would “seriously undermine” the DNR’s ability to protect the public from many environmental hazards in addition to PFAS, due in part to the broad language in the lawsuit that could upend the state’s Spill Law.

The Spill Law requires anyone who causes, possesses or controls a hazardous substance that was discharged into the environment to take action to restore the affected air, land and waters, according to the DNR. Immediate reporting to the DNR is required, and the law applies equally to a recent spill or to old contamination newly discovered. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are among those substances.

But in court documents, the WMC and LRI allege that the DNR’s policy of regulating what they refer to as “emerging contaminants,” including PFAS, is unlawful and unenforceable. The plaintiffs are asking a judge to force the agency to stop regulating PFAS and other emerging contaminants as well as declaring the rule invalid.

During a news conference Monday, representatives from CCW along with Midwest Environmental Advocates, Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network and River Alliance of Wisconsin announced they will file a request to intervene and become full parties in the lawsuit.

The outcome of this case could have implications for every community in the state including Wausau, said Tom Kilian, a founding member of CCW who spoke on behalf of the organization on Monday.

Wausau and its citizens are directly impacted by the ability of the DNR to regulate environmental hazards, Kilian said, pointing to recent cleanup efforts and investigations underway in the city.

“Without the spills law, we would have no legal recourse for holding polluters accountable,” Kilian said.

Wilkin Gibart said if WMC succeeds, the DNR would likely be left without the legal authority to regulate many hazardous substances or ordering cleanup.

The intervenors are filing their intent today, Wilkin Gibart said. Once the motion is filed, the court will set a hearing on the filing to determine whether the groups will be allowed to move forward.