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 CarperInstead of raising the gas tax, stop wasting money on frivolous projects To stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists 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 TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report 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 tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA 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 WaldenCBO: Pelosi bill to lower drug prices saves Medicare 5 billion Trump official declines to testify on trade protections for tech platforms House panel asks Trump trade official to testify on legal protections for tech platforms 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 BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia 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 UdallGreen groups line up behind Markey ahead of looming Kennedy fight Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Overnight Energy: Top Interior lawyer accused of lying to Congress confirmed | Senate set to deny funding for BLM move | EPA threatens to cut California highway funds MORE (D-N.M.) requires military assistance for farmers impacted by PFAS.