Energy & Environment

House passes bill to crack down on toxic ‘forever chemicals’

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.

{mosads}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 Carper (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 Trump 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 Tonko (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 Walden (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 Barrasso (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 Udall (D-N.M.) requires military assistance for farmers impacted by PFAS.

Tags Donald Trump forever chemicals Greg Walden John Barrasso John Barrasso NDAA Paul Tonko PFAS Tom Carper Tom Carper Tom Udall

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