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 CarperLawmakers grill manufacturers over 'forever chemicals' contamination EPA ordered to set stronger smog standards America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction 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 TonkoDemocrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA Schumer slams Ross for 'thuggish behavior' over reportedly threatening to fire officials Overnight Energy: Democrats call for Ross to resign over report he threatened NOAA officials | Commerce denies report | Documents detail plan to decentralize BLM | Lawmakers demand answers on bee-killing pesticide 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 ShaheenOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA 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 votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge Lobbying World Meet the Democratic senator trying to negotiate gun control with Trump 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 CapitoThis week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction 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 TurnerGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence Dayton Democrat launches challenge to longtime GOP rep Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE (R-Ohio).

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusWave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback Illinois Rep. Shimkus won't run for reelection Illinois House Republicans call on Trump to not commute Blagojevich's sentence 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.”