Dems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants

Democratic lawmakers are accusing the Trump administration of dragging its feet on plans to protect Americans from a key class of drinking water contaminants.

Lawmakers say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to commit to quickly setting a maximum allowable level in drinking water for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler rolled out an action plan for PFAS Thursday morning that includes cleaning up sources of contamination, helping local and state governments protect water sources and determining by the end of the year whether setting a maximum level for drinking water is appropriate.

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But for Democrats, the action is too little, too late.

“The PFAS Action Plan being trumpeted by EPA today is insufficiently protective, and it explains why Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler would not commit to setting a drinking water standard for PFAS during his nomination hearing last month,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.

“It has taken the EPA nearly a year just to kick the can even further down the road,” he said. “While EPA acts with the utmost urgency to repeal regulations, the agency ambles with complacency when it comes to taking real steps to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Scientific integrity is crumbling under Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of that panel’s environment subcommittee, said in a joint statement that they appreciated forward movement on the PFAS issue from the EPA, but found it disappointing.

“While we applaud aspects of this plan that respond to demands by members who have been pushing to address dangerous PFAS contamination in their districts, ultimately this plan fails to meet the challenge our nation faces with this growing water contamination and health crisis,” the chairmen said.

“If EPA intends to drag its feet, Congress will have to step in and lead the fight to protect Americans from these dangerous chemicals.”

PFAS contamination issues have arisen in many specific areas around the country where it was used in manufacturing, firefighting or other activities.

Democrats representing those areas find the EPA’s actions insufficient.

“It falls short of delivering the certainty that families impacted by PFAS exposure need and deserve,” said Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenCrucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment MORE (D-N.H.).

“Without a commitment to develop enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, there’s no certainty that this strategy will sufficiently confront the challenges PFAS chemicals pose to states and affected communities,” she said, referring to two of the most common chemicals in the family.

At least one key Republican — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' GOP senator: US should 'reevaluate' long-term relationship with Saudis Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Wyo.), was left wanting more from the EPA.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s PFAS plan is only a first step. As I have said before, EPA must speak clearly about the risk that this class of chemicals poses to public health and the environment,” he said in a statement.

“The agency must be willing to take decisive action where it is warranted.”

Other Republicans — even those who have been vocal on the need for more action on PFAS — welcomed the plan.

“I was pleased with the EPA’s announcement,” Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Republicans make U-turn on health care MORE (R-W.Va.), who wants the agency to set a drinking water limit for the contaminants, told reporters.

“I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s not a giant leap. And maybe we’ll get him to do the giant leap as we keep pushing,” she said.

“This action plan is a strong step forward for our community to continue to ensure our water is safe,” said Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerMerriam-Webster appears to jab Brit Hume for citing its first definition of racism to defend Trump House GOP presses members to oppose resolution condemning Trump remarks as racist House Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting MORE (R-Ohio).

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusOvernight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress California official blasts EPA head over car standard negotiations Democrats grill Trump officials over fuel standard rollback MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee, said he understood complaints that the EPA is kicking the can down the road, but he supports the plan as it was laid out.

“Don’t get me wrong, I wish it could go faster,” he told The Hill. “When you’re trying to deal with chemicals, and you’re questioning the safety of it, and what amount, you want that information out.”

But he said the EPA is trying to do the science well, and that takes time.

“You’d rather do good science, and have good standards, versus standards based upon emotion.”