WED AM News: State divesting from fossil fuels up for debate; WMC’s Litigation Center suing DNR over PFAS requirements imposed on former dry cleaner

— Divesting from fossil fuels could be a smart financial choice to help Wisconsin lead the fight against climate change, according to Dem Rep. Greta Neubauer of the state’s climate task force.

But a GOP lawmaker, also on the task force, disagrees.

The Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change Report released in December includes 55 climate solutions across nine sectors. The recommendations aim to help the state to better adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, while also seeking environmental justice and economic opportunities in renewable energy and conservation.  

One of those proposals is state divestment of fossil fuel stocks and other interests. This recommendation was labeled as a tier-two policy option, meaning it was an issue raised by the public that didn’t draw support from all 31 members. The task force included the recommendation in the report and indicated it may merit further discussion or consideration outside of the task force. 

“A growing number of financial analysts and economists argue that fossil fuels will prove to be a bad investment, as climate change continues to accelerate and renewable energy becomes even more cost competitive,” said Neubauer, a Racine Democrat. “Over the past few years, coal and oil stocks have shown great vulnerability and volatility, a trend that has only accelerated during the pandemic. Divestment is not only a symbolic demonstration of our values and our support for a just, sustainable future — it is a reasoned financial choice when the market is already moving away from fossil fuels.”

The divestment idea calls for fossil fuel stocks or other interests be removed from state-owned investments. In practice, this means the sale of any stocks or investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies owned by the Wisconsin Retirement System and the UW System Foundations and the banning of any future investments in these stocks or other interests. 

Read the full story at 

— WMC’s new Litigation Center has filed its first lawsuit, suing the DNR over PFAS requirements the agency sought to impose on a former dry cleaner who joined a program allowing businesses to voluntarily clean up pollution in exchange for liability for contamination.

The suit also comes as the state’s largest business group has been at odds with the Department of Natural Resources over the agency’s authority to regulate PFAS, arguing that power isn’t clearly spelled out in state statute.

PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination, are a series of chemicals found in industrial and everyday products, most notably firefighting foam. They do not break down easily in the environment and are linked to several diseases and cancers in humans. The Evers administration has taken a series of steps to address PFAS contamination, including an effort to prosecute companies responsible for chemical contamination in the state.

The suit filed in Waukesha County argues the DNR lacks the authority to set standards for PFAS contamination that would require remediation. That’s because a standard isn’t spelled out in state law and the agency hasn’t undertaken the rules process to establish one, the suit argues.

The suit was filed by WMC and Leather Rich Inc., a former Oconomowoc dry cleaner.

According to the suit, Joanne Kantor wanted to sell the business property after her husband died in 2018. In preparation for the sale, it was discovered the property may be contaminated with some compounds commonly found at dry cleaning locations.

State law requires those aware a hazardous substance was discharged on their property to go through a remediation and redevelopment program. They also can then join the Voluntary Party Liability Exemption program, which allows people to voluntarily conduct an environmental investigation and clean up of a property and then receive limits on their liability for historical contamination.

Kantor joined the VPLE, and the suit alleges the DNR began insisting on testing for PFAS nearly two years into the effort to win agency approval of the cleanup plan.

Read the lawsuit: 

— Beginning Monday, only educators and child care workers in the state will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine among the second-phase group, Willems Van Dijk said.

The education group accounts for about 225,000 people, she added. 

More than 47 percent of individuals age 65 or over have received at least the first dose. 

According to the U.S. Census, more than 1 million Wisconsinites are age 65 and over. It’s estimated that the next phase, to begin rolling out on Monday accounts for up to 634,000 people, according to DHS. 

Willems Van Dijk predicted the 65 and older group to be halfway through vaccinations by Monday. As the second half of the 65 and older group finishes, the next phase will expand to include the rest of the essential workers on the waitlist, such as bus drivers, food workers and those living in group settings. 

“Both the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee and DHS, as we approved their recommendations, said that we wanted to get our educators vaccinated as quickly as possible, and so, therefore, they were put first in line in this group,” she said. “We want our kids in school.”

The state is working with local and tribal health departments to finalize plans for vaccinating the education and child care workers, such as sending vaccines right to school districts. 

“What it means for others is they will not be first in line,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We don’t have enough vaccine for everybody to be in line the first week of March.”

— Wisconsin is opening four more community-based vaccination clinics within the next two months.

The clinics will be located in La Crosse, Racine and Marathon counties. The fourth is split between Douglas and Barron counties. The four clinics will join Rock County’s vaccination site for a total of five in Wisconsin.

“Our first week of the DHS community-based vaccination clinic at Rock County was a success and we are excited to continue launching more of these community clinics across Wisconsin,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “We are continuing to work to get vaccine doses across our state as soon as we have doses available. These community-based sites are going to be critical to our work making sure that Wisconsinites can get vaccinated so we can put this pandemic behind us.”

The Rock County site administers about 200 doses per day. The other four sites will also start out at that capacity. According to the Department of Health Services, with more vaccine supply either from Pfizer and Moderna scaling up production, Johnson & Johnson receiving vaccine approval or other brands coming through the pipeline, the sites will scale up the doses they administer per day. 

The new clinics are made possible through a collaboration with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, the UW System and local public health departments. The locations were selected to address gaps in vaccine access and support vaccination efforts. Various consideration factors included population demographics, local health capacity, operations, and concentration of other vaccine providers. 

— Milwaukee County can expect a federal COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the coming weeks, according to DHS.

Each county scheduled to host a vaccination clinic has a higher percentage of its population vaccinated than Milwaukee County, the state’s most populated county. Milwaukee County also has the largest Black population — a group that’s been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and has received the least amount of COVID-19 vaccines per population. 

Willems Van Dijk said the state is currently working with Milwaukee city and county officials to explore a Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination site. 

FEMA is supporting vaccination sites by providing expedited financial assistance, providing federal equipment and supplies, and deploying federal personnel to states.

“We are in planning conversations with FEMA to look at a site in Milwaukee and to determine what the best location for that site will be,” she said. “Hopefully have a FEMA site up and running within the next few weeks.”

She added that she’s hopeful the FEMA site will bring additional vaccines to the state, but it depends on the vaccine manufacturers. Currently, the assumption is that the site will use a share of the state’s allotment.

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— Wisconsin farmers and businesses seeking to grow their presence in local markets are encouraged to apply for Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grants by March 26. 

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will award a total of up to $300,000. Requests must be between $5,000 and $50,000. Applicants must show a one-to-one match of cash or in-kind support accounting for at least 50 percent of the total project budget. The money cannot be used to fund studies or startups.

Qualified applicants include individuals, groups or businesses involved in Wisconsin production agriculture, food processing, food distribution, food warehousing, retail food establishments or agricultural tourism operations. Proposals may include collaborations or partnerships.

Apply here:

—  Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes tonight at 6 p.m. will highlight plans for a $15,000 Spectrum Digital Education Grant recently awarded to 100 Black Men of Madison to help connect low-income African American youth to technology. 

The $15,000 grant will help further digital education through a program designed to ensure reliable, dependable communication and interaction via webcasts to the most vulnerable members of the Madison community.

“This pandemic has exacerbated the digital divides that are holding too many of our kids back from meeting their full potential,” Barnes said. “I applaud the partnership between Spectrum and 100 Black Men of Madison for expanding valuable digital literacy services to the Madison community.”

The presentation will take place during the 100 Black Men, 100 Scholars celebration: 

— The Department of Workforce Development is giving more than $1.65 million in grants to 13 businesses and organizations statewide as part of the Wisconsin Fast Forward initiative.

DWD’s Wisconsin Fast Forward provides targeted funds to support worker training, education and recruitment to bolster a skilled workforce. It also offers a path to well-paying jobs for unemployed workers and opportunities for growth for current employees, said DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek.

See the list of recipients: 

For information on the next round of Wisconsin Fast Forward grants, visit:

— An additional $10 million in funding for Wisconsin Fast Forward is part of Gov. Tony Evers’ budget plan. 

The additional money will support training for individuals, businesses and organizations affected by the pandemic.

“These additional dollars will allow DWD to continue to fund effective training for those out of work and those looking to advance in their industry by providing new, transferable skills for the unemployed and employed alike,” Pechacek said. 


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