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Pallone Holds Fast on Strict PFAS Provisions in Defense Bill

Dec. 6, 2019, 4:17 PM

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said Dec. 6 that he wouldn’t accept provisions on regulating so-called “forever chemicals” in the fiscal 2020 defense reauthorization bill that are weaker than what the House passed in July.

Lawmakers are anxious to move forward on the must-pass defense bill, which lays out priorities for Pentagon programs. But the disagreement over the PFAS provisions sets a significant hurdle to getting it into law.

Senate Republicans are unwilling to adopt a “meaningful drinking water standard” that would impose limits on two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Pallone told reporters.

Senate Republicans have also refused to require cleanup of toxic waste in the National Defense Authorization Act, Pallone said.

“We had strong House provisions on both standards for drinking water and cleanup of toxic waste sites, they wouldn’t do it, that’s it,” Pallone said.

Pallone said Republicans have consistently rejected the proposals, including the latest one sent Dec. 5.

Democrats “are not going to vote for a safe drinking water standard that is less than the current law. They’re not saying that the bill can have weakened standards in it, they’re saying they want something that accomplishes the goal of addressing PFAS.”

Nearly 70 Democrats said in a letter they wouldn’t vote for a bill without strong language on cleaning up the chemicals, which are linked to cancer and other health problems and plague communities around the country.

Not a single Republican voted for the defense bill (H.R. 2500) that passed the House July 12.

Two PFAS Provisions Hold Up Bill

The House-passed bill, which sets annual funding expectations for the Defense Department, would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set a maximum contaminant level that must account for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children.

The House bill would also trigger a hazardous designation for PFAS chemicals under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known also as Superfund.

Republicans have pushed for a much narrower designation for only two PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). Republicans say the broader designation is unfeasible for cleanup under Superfund.

Senators were concerned that amending the Safe Drinking Water Act in this manner would suggest that the two PFAS chemicals were a higher concern than any other contaminant regulated under the law, according to a person familiar with the negotiations..

The two issues in the House bill appear to be the only sticking point left on PFAS. Pallone and Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, have said negotiators have agreed on cleaning up legacy PFAS contamination on military bases, monitoring for groundwater pollution, phasing out firefighting foam containing the chemicals, and notifying communities about toxic releases.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has approved a standalone package of bills to address PFAS (H.R. 535), though it is far less likely to become law than the defense bill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington at tstecker@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com