By Shereen Siewert

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

In a hearing today, a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge granted a motion by
the groups to file an amicus, or ‘friend of the court’, brief in the lawsuit.

Although they will not participate as full parties, the groups will be allowed to submit arguments for the judge’s consideration in a case they say threatens to fundamentally undermine the Spills Law—a bedrock environmental and public health protection that keeps Wisconsinites safe from exposure to PFAS and other
hazardous substances. The lawsuit was filed in February by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Leather Rich, Inc., who are suing the DNR in an effort to limit the agency’s ability to investigate and order cleanup of environmental contamination.

The Spills 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.

Midwest Environmental Advocates will submit the friend of the court brief on behalf of a group of environmental and public health advocates who are participating in the case in order to defend the Spills Law. In addition to Citizens for a Clean Wausau, the groups include the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network and Doug Oitzinger, a former mayor of Marinette.

Prior to today’s hearing, a press conference was held to highlight the potential harm to Wisconsin communities if Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) prevails in the lawsuit.

“WMC’s reckless lawsuit seeks to strip the state of the power to address PFAS and other forms of toxic contamination,” said MEA Board Member and Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court Justice Tricia Zunker. “If they succeed, the ramifications will be harmful and costly for communities across the state—from Milwaukee to Marinette to my hometown of Wausau.”

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 in a June news conference.

Wausau and its citizens are directly impacted by the ability of the DNR to regulate environmental hazards, Kilian said in June, 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.

Allison Werner, Executive Director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, said, “WMC’s assault on the Spills Law is a significant threat to the state’s ability to protect our water resources. It is also a threat to public health and to all the sectors of our economy—including tourism and agriculture—that rely on clean water.”