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 CarperEPA ordered to set stronger smog standards America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction FARA should apply to Confucius Institutes 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 TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future 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 TonkoLawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits House Democrats push automakers to rebuff Trump, join California's fuel efficiency deal Overnight Energy: Democrats seek help in appealing to conservatives on climate | Whistleblowers say Interior sidelined scientists | Automakers strike fuel efficiency deal with California in rebuff to Trump 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 WaldenIs there internet life after thirty? Outdated safe harbor laws have no place in trade agreements Trump officials propose easing privacy rules to improve addiction treatment 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 BarrassoIf Democrats want gun control, they must first concede defeat Conway: Republican concerns about gun reform 'all reconcilable' Five proposals Congress is eyeing after mass shootings 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 UdallDemocrats object to Interior plans to move BLM out west Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Republicans should get behind the 28th Amendment MORE (D-N.M.) requires military assistance for farmers impacted by PFAS.