A House committee approved a legislative package late Nov. 20 that would radically change the way the federal government regulates “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved the package, H.R. 535, combining 12 different bills, 31-19, largely on party lines.
Two Republicans crossed party lines to support the legislation: Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.) and David McKinley (W.Va.).
Puts PFAS on Superfund List
The consolidated version of H.R. 535 would place these chemicals on the Superfund hazards substances list from the Environmental Protection Agency, force the agency to set nationwide drinking water standards for PFAS, and block companies from producing new chemicals in this class.
PFAS, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are nonstick agents used to make some cookware and also found in firefighting foam. They have seeped into groundwater aquifers in many areas and are very difficult to remediate.
Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the top Republican on the panel, said he is concerned about the potential consequences for industry if all PFAS are regulated as a single group.
And the legislative package faces an uphill struggle in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“We still have significant concerns and we know this package will not make it into law,” Walden said. “Let’s not politicize this critical environmental issue.”
‘Good-Faith’ Effort to Reach to GOP
Walden opposed the measure’s attempt to regulate PFAS under the Superfund law by triggering a “hazardous” designation under the Clean Air Act. He also said the legislation would hamper efforts to find alternatives to the most concerning chemicals in the class.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said the committee’s Democratic leaders made a “good faith” effort to address Republican concerns, and that many of the provisions have “good, bipartisan support.”
“While I am disappointed that we did not get a [bipartisan] deal in time for today’s markup, I am going to remain optimistic,” Dingell said.
Republicans sought to include a measure that would set drinking water standards for the two most studied PFAS chemicals— perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). Neither are still manufactured in the United States, but can leak into surface waters and groundwater from landfills and other areas.
The EPA also said it would to release this month a notice of proposed rulemaking on adding PFOA and PFOS to the list of hazardous substances under the Superfund program, a month behind its prior schedule. That’s according to the White House’s biannual regulatory agenda out on Nov. 20.
‘Empty Cup of Water’
The Republican measure would also require water utilities to monitor unregulated PFAS, and allow for a five-year grace period before enforcement actions could begin. It would have mandated reporting of new PFAS on the Toxics Release Inventory and as well as regulation of new long-chain chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) panned the measure, saying the standard wouldn’t be protective enough of children, wouldn’t ban incineration of PFAS, and wouldn’t provide guidance for firefighters who use PFAS-containing firefighting foam.
Upton, who broke with his party to back the Democratic package, also supported the Republican amendment because it had a better chance of becoming law.
“We don’t want to end up with an empty cup of water,” Upton said. “We’d rather have half a glass than none of it.”
Many of the provisions in H.R. 535 are also included in an annual defense authorization bill that has passed both the House and Senate.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services committee, said last week that lawmakers are torn over whether to add PFAS to the Superfund hazardous substances list. Doing this could force the Pentagon to pay potentially billions of dollars to clean up sites where firefighting activity on military bases caused PFAS contamination.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the chair of the committee’s Environment & Climate Change subcommittee, said he wasn’t sure when the PFAS package would be heading to the House floor, but he hopes it will come up before the end of this year.
—With assistance from Sylvia Carignan.