Energy & Environment

Trump officials voice opposition to ‘forever chemical’ bill


The White House announced Tuesday that President Trump would likely veto legislation designed to manage a class of cancer-linked chemicals leaching into the water supply.

The chemicals, known by the abbreviation PFAS, are used in a variety of nonstick products such as raincoats, cookware and packaging and have been found in nearly every state in the country.

They are considered “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment and in the human body, with 99 percent of those tested having PFAS traces in their body.

After failing to include a measure to broadly regulate PFAS in the annual defense policy bill late last year, House lawmakers introduced sweeping legislation in November that would force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a drinking water standard for PFAS.

The EPA said it would determine whether to regulate PFAS by the end of 2019, a self-imposed deadline the agency missed.

A vote on the House bill is slated for Thursday, and the measure is widely expected to pass the Democratic-controlled chamber. The bill was expected to face resistance in the GOP-led Senate, with the administration’s statement Tuesday further diminishing the legislation’s prospects. 

The White House argued in a statement that the bill would “bypass well-established processes, procedures, and legal requirements of the Nation’s most fundamental environmental laws, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Toxic Substances Control Act; the Clean Air Act; and the Solid Waste Disposal Act” while stressing that the EPA should take the reins in developing a drinking water standard.

“The regulatory process works best when EPA and other agencies are free to devise regulations based on the best available science and careful consideration of all the relevant facts. By truncating the rulemaking process, this legislation risks undermining public confidence in the EPA’s decisions, and also risks the imposition of unnecessary costs on States, public water systems, and others responsible for complying with its prescriptive mandates,” the statement added.

The EPA currently recommends water contain no more than 70 parts per trillion of PFAS, but Democrats and public health groups say the agency needs an actual requirement — one that will likely need to be below that level to protect public health.

The statement from the White House largely mirrors previous concerns expressed by Republicans, who wanted to ensure utilities would not be saddled with meeting a standard that requires expensive technology far beyond their means.

“We don’t want a standard that’s infeasible to be required of drinking water utilities, and the last thing is we don’t want the cost benefits that are part of the law right now to be disregarded,” a Republican aide told The Hill last year. “We wanted the practicalities to be considered.”

Lawmakers originally included provisions to deal with PFAS chemicals in an early version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the must-pass defense spending bill that Trump signed last month.

That early legislation targeted PFAS through the military, which has at least 425 sites that have been contaminated after exercises involving the heavy use of firefighting foam.

The possibility of including PFAS provisions in the NDAA were squandered last month, however, as some lawmakers questioned whether the matter was beyond the scope of the bill. 

The PFAS legislation currently in the House combines 11 previous PFAS bills and targets a wide range of issues, including requiring PFAS to be covered under the hazardous waste cleanup law, and imposes a five-year moratorium on the development of new PFAS chemicals. 

The bill also spells out new regulations for production and cleanup of such toxic chemicals, requiring the EPA to regulate PFAS air pollution under the Clean Air Act, as well as another portion outlining proper disposal for PFAS chemicals.

Tags Donald Trump forever chemicals PFAS

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