House-passed 'forever chemicals' regulations pulled from defense bill

House-passed 'forever chemicals' regulations pulled from defense bill
© Greg Nash

Democratic-championed provisions in the annual defense policy bill that would regulate cancer-linked “forever chemicals” have been pulled from the final version of the bill, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee confirmed Friday.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.) told reporters that negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are all but done, with the conference report only needing to be printed before negotiators’ signatures are gathered.

Negotiations on the bill had been tripped up for months over issues including President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says US has coronavirus 'totally under control' Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution MORE’s border wall and Space Force. In recent weeks, provisions regulating a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which have been leaching into the water supply near military sites, also emerged as a major stumbling block.

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“We did not get what we wanted on PFAS because the Republicans refused to give it to us,” Smith said. “I strongly support listing this is a toxic substance and letting EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] go to work. That’s what the Republicans refused to do.”

Ultimately, Smith added, the issue falls outside the jurisdiction of the NDAA, which made Democrats’ stance harder to defend after Republicans said they would not sign the conference report with the language in the bill.

“What everyone forgets is, we kind of have a day job here, which is authorizing the defense bill so that we can continue to defend the country and support our troops, and that’s about 2,000 pages and a whole bunch of different provisions, and that’s kind of important,” he said. “And yes, we can grab other stuff, and I’m happy to do it … I’m not going to jettison the entire authorizing bill. We pushed it as hard as we could, and then we pushed it a little bit harder. Republicans wouldn’t give in.”

The cancer-linked substance known as PFAS is used in firefighting foam and has contaminated water near at least 425 military sites.

The House-passed version of the NDAA would have forced the cleanup of PFAS under the Superfund law and would have directed the EPA to set a maximum contaminant level.

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The elimination of those provisions from the final NDAA could mean the bill will lose some Democratic votes when it comes to final passage in the House. Last month, 69 House Democrats wrote a letter to negotiators saying they “cannot, in good conscience” support an NDAA that “fails to significantly address” PFAS contamination.

On Friday, Smith stressed the bill retains several provisions on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) use of PFAS.

“What is in our jurisdiction, we pushed pretty hard and we got some good regulations on reducing what DOD does with PFAS. The stuff within our jurisdiction, we got what we wanted,” he said.

Smith would not discuss several other details of what the final bill includes or excludes.

On the issue of paid family leave, Smith said he was happy with the resolution without elaborating. The House-passed bill would give federal employees 12 weeks of paid family leave. 

On Thursday, Smith also suggested Democrats lost out on a House-passed provision that would have reversed Trump’s transgender military ban.

“We fought hard for it,” Smith said at an American Enterprise Institute event. “There were potential compromises that I could have pursued, but the conventional wisdom was, all or nothing, and I agree with that convention wisdom. There should be no restriction on transgender troops’ ability to serve. … We’re going to have to keep fighting them on that.”