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House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals'

House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals'
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The House voted to limit cancer-linked “forever chemicals” Friday in a bill that directs the military and the Environmental Protection Agency to take stronger action against spreading contamination.

The measures, passed through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), target a class of chemicals abbreviated as PFAS that have shown up in 49 states and 712 sites, according to data from the Environmental Working Group.

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PFAS are used in a variety of nonstick products as well as firefighting foams frequently used by the military. The chemical is known for its slow breakdown process, denoting it as a “forever chemical,” making it particularly concerning as it leaches into the water supply.

The bill requires the military to phase out use of foam with PFAS by 2025 and would also designate PFAS as a toxic pollutant under the Clean Water Act. 

But in a big break from the Senate version that passed in June, the House version would allow Superfund money to be used to clean up PFAS contamination.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (D-Del.) who had pushed for such a measure in the Senate, called it “a move that would unleash federal powers to clean up contaminated drinking water supplies and hold polluters accountable, even when one of those polluters is the Department of Defense.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) faces a $2 billion cleanup tab for PFAS, and critics have accused the military of trying to limit regulations that would make them financially responsible for more cleanups. 

But there are others who are not thrilled to see the House so robustly taking on PFAS. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE has threatened to veto the House version of the NDAA, citing two PFAS provisions among his concerns.

And legislators that were already working on a broad PFAS package were annoyed to see so many policy points included in the bill before they could be vetted.

“I’d prefer regular order but there’s a lot of work to be done on the PFAS issue, and we’re anxious to do it based on the hearings that we’ve had,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training Democrats question EPA postponement of environmental inequality training Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee dealing with PFAS.

Tonko's Republican counterpart agreed.

"The House Energy and Commerce Committee takes our responsibility to keep our communities safe very seriously. We tackle complicated issues and we work to get it right — using deliberation and in this case, the scientific process,” Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenMcMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract Lawmakers urge FCC to assist in effort to rip out, replace suspect network equipment MORE (R-Ore.) said in a statement. “We need to get it right. We hear it too often, but allowing regular order to continue so the committee can have good-faith discussions is important.”

Some in the Senate also believe the House bill goes too far. 

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Wyo.) said some PFAS provisions would place too much of a burden on cities and businesses that have been using products with PFAS in good faith for years, believing them to be safe and effective.

“House Democrats are proposing to saddle local airports, farmers and ranchers, water utilities, and countless small businesses with billions of dollars in liability. This is what happens when the House rushes legislation and ignores the committee process,” he said in a statement. “Their proposal won’t become law. Our PFAS legislation can. It advanced unanimously from the Environment and Public Works Committee and passed as part of the defense authorization bill with overwhelming bipartisan support.” 

Other measures in the House bill require a Government Accountability Office review of the Department of Defense’s response to PFAS contamination and make DOD enter into cooperative agreements with states for contamination cleanups. A measure from Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham Progressives urge Haaland for Interior as short list grows MORE (D-N.M.) requires military assistance for farmers impacted by PFAS.