House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water

House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water
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The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish national drinking water standards for “forever chemicals” — a group of toxic compounds linked to kidney and liver issues, among other health problems. 

The PFAS Action Act of 2021 passed the lower chamber with bipartisan support, 241-183. Twenty-three Republican lawmakers voted with Democrats to pass the measure. 

One Democrat and five Republicans were "no" votes. 

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The legislation, introduced by Michigan Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellWith Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Biden, top officials spread out to promote infrastructure package Pelosi calls for ethics, criminal investigations into Gosar MORE (D) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOnly two Republicans expected to back censuring Gosar Jarring GOP divisions come back into spotlight Trump allies target Katko over infrastructure vote MORE (R), would demand that the EPA regulate the most common perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFOA and PFOS — within two years of enactment, as well as designate these two compounds as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund law within a year. To date, the EPA has only established “health advisory levels” for PFAS compounds.

“Nearly every American has PFAS coursing through their blood,” Dingell said, during a debate on the House floor prior to the Wednesday vote.

Her co-sponsor, Upton, recalled a 2014 lead contamination tragedy in Flint, Mich., stressing that his state knows “a little bit about water contamination.” 

“PFAS is bad too — really bad,” Upton said. “And EPA has been slow at the switch.”

The bill would give the EPA five years both to determine whether all PFAS — of which there are thousands — should be designated as hazardous and to submit a review of the agency’s PFAS cleanup efforts. The EPA would also have 180 days to add PFOA and PFOS to the Clean Air Act’s hazardous pollutants list and would need to develop effluent limits for PFAS under the Clean Water Act. 

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The EPA administrator would need to mandate “comprehensive toxicity testing” on all PFAS by sorting compounds into tiered categories and adjusting testing accordingly. A final rule on testing would occur within two years.

The bill would limit industrial discharges of PFAS and allocate $200 million annually from 2022 to 2026 for wastewater treatment, as well as restrict incineration of PFAS wastes. The agency would make PFAS-free labels available for relevant products, while establishing a household well water testing website that clearly communicates public health risks. 

“This approach puts the focus on following the science, by tailoring testing to relevant subgroups of PFAS and focusing regulation on the riskiest chemicals,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), during Wednesday’s debate.

At a bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force meeting on Wednesday morning, Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowHillicon Valley — Facebook shutters its facial recognition system House passes bills to shore up small business cybersecurity The United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards MORE (D-Colo.) relayed a U.S. West sentiment that “the water that we do have we treasure, we protect and we make sure it’s clean.” 

“What we value more than water is the health of our children,” Crow said. 

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Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibRestless progressives eye 2024 GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Tlaib 'fearful' as social spending plan heads to Senate MORE (D-Mich.), meanwhile, slammed the EPA for “not doing its due diligence,” at the same press conference.

A previous version of the PFAS Action Act passed the House in January 2020 but stalled in the Senate after facing a veto threat by former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE. While a Senate companion bill has yet to be introduced this time, President BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE has indicated his support for the House bill. 

During Wednesday’s debate, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.) accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFive issues that will define the months until the midterms  Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE of “senselessly [refusing] to take it up in the Senate” when he served as majority leader.

But many Republicans still oppose the PFAS Action Act, arguing that it could lead to a broad ban on PFAS. Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersWashington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines McMorris Rodgers worried broadband funding will miss mark without new maps The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Budget negotiators: 72 hours and counting MORE (R-Wash.) condemned the bill as “overwhelming, heavy handed and unscientific,” as well as an “aggressive expansion of federal power.”

Rep. Tim WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergHouse passes bills to secure telecommunications infrastructure Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — West Coast wildfires drive East Coast air quality alerts MORE (R-Mich.) called the bill “sincerely well-intended” but said that the Congressional Budget Office was unable to assign a budgetary score to such expansive legislation, which would be a “hamstring to our small businesses.”

Rep. Larry BucshonLarry Dean BucshonPeanut Butter and Jelly make debut ahead of White House turkey pardon Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' Lawmakers push for more funding on chronic kidney disease treatment MORE (R-Ind.), a heart surgeon, criticized the authors for failing to include an amendment that would exempt PFAS use in medical devices — suggesting that the text as-is could jeopardize access to life-saving drugs.

In response, Dingell argued that “there is nothing in this bill that would ban PFAS used in drugs, medical devices or PPE.”

Both Dingell and Pelosi emphasized the adverse health effects related to PFAS exposure, with the latter stressing that the compounds are “exposing millions of Americans to health risks.”

“We are making clear that this legislation is a priority for the American people, and we will not relent until it is enacted,” Pelosi said.