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House Panel’s PFAS Provisions Set Up Showdown With Senate (1)

July 2, 2020, 7:55 PMUpdated: July 2, 2020, 9:14 PM

The Senate on Thursday put off further action for weeks on its mammoth defense authorization bill that has become a battleground for efforts to address exposure to PFAS.

But the Senate’s $740.5 billion fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 4049), which the chamber is to return to after a two-plus week recess for the July 4 holiday, will have to be reconciled with a House defense bill.

The House version now has stronger PFAS provisions.

The Senate on Thursday also agreed to take up six amendments when the chamber returns to the bill the week of July 20, including one by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to increase funding for a human health study on PFAS from $10 million to $15 million in fiscal 2021.

The annual defense authorization measure has become a focus of efforts to strengthen regulation of PFAS and help communities fighting contamination of their drinking water. It also directs the Pentagon to take into account how climate change can impact defense bases and military strategy.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of thousands of man-made chemicals used in nonstick consumer goods and firefighting foam. The foam has been used in defense installations and on military ships. Some of the PFAS chemicals may cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stronger House Provisions

The House version has stronger PFAS provisions in its $732 billion fiscal 2021 defense bill (H.R. 6395) after the House Armed Services Committee finished its work.

Those provisions include an amendment by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), approved 31-25, to require the Defense Department to adhere to any state or federal PFAS limits when cleaning up contamination from the chemicals found in drinking water or groundwater.

Other amendments now attached to the House bill by the House Armed Services panel:

  • A provision that would direct the Pentagon to submit by February 2022 an outline of its strategy and implementation plan for addressing current and future climate change effects on the Pentagon’s mission. The amendment by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) was wrapped in an “en bloc” amendment package adopted by voice vote;
  • An amendment by Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) that would ensure military members get tested for PFAS exposure during health exams; and
  • An amendment by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) that would direct the Defense Department to provide $15 million toward a PFAS study underway at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those amendments strengthened PFAS provisions already in the House defense bill, including authorizing $150 million for research to support development of PFAS remediation and disposal technologies for military installations.

The bill would also provide $1.5 billion for environmental remediation and cleanup of current and former military installations and defense sites, including so-called BRAC sites closed in a consolidation of bases under the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990.

Both the House and Senate defense bills also include a sustainable chemistry provision, following a Senate agreement Thursday that attached dozens on noncontroversial measures to the legislation.

Those measures include one by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) that calls for better coordination of federal efforts supporting sustainable chemistry. Its draws from the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act (S.999) introduced by Coons and cosponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

(Adds information on sustainable chemistry provision in final two paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Chuck McCutcheon at