Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, slammed congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle Dec. 5 for their jettisoning of bipartisan, widely agreed-upon provisions in the nation’s defense authorization bill that would have taken key steps to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance contamination in communities throughout America, including hundreds of communities in or near military bases.
“Despite a voice vote in the House and 53 senators on record as supporting the designation of all 4,000 PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, it is appalling that Senate Republicans opposed — and some senior House Democrats did not insist on — a principled, compromise measure to begin cleanup at military sites and in communities throughout the country for just two of the most harmful legacy PFAS chemicals,” said Carper.
“Similarly, the insistence by some senior House Democrats to remove a bipartisan Senate provision adopted on a 100-0 basis to require a drinking water standard for these harmful chemicals flies in the face of our obligation to protect every American’s right to have access to clean, drinkable water,” said Carper.
“Congress had a key opportunity to give these hundreds of American communities the help they so desperately need and deserve,” said Carper. “But because of behind-the-scenes, beltway politics we are about to miss that opportunity. This outcome betrays the solemn responsibility we have as lawmakers to protect our military families and all residents of this country, and Congress should be ashamed by its failure to lead.”
According to the Environmental Working Group, PFAS has been detected in the drinking water of 19 million Americans across 49 states. Nationwide, EWG data from September shows that there are nearly 300 military installations with known contamination, including two in Delaware at Dover Air Force Base and New Castle Air National Guard Base.
In July, the Senate passed an amendment to NDAA that was introduced by Carper, EPW Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, that included several measures that had been approved unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Despite the widespread bipartisan support for that package, the NDAA conference report does not include one of its key provisions that would create a two-year deadline for setting a federal drinking water standard for these chemicals.
The NDAA conference report also does not include provisions that treat PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the EPA Superfund law — even though Carper’s legislation, the PFAS Action Act of 2019, has 53 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and the same legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, and unanimously approved by the House as an amendment to the House NDAA.
The PFAS-related measures that are included in the NDAA conference report include:
— The PFAS Release Disclosure Act (S. 1507), legislation Capito and Carper led with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, to require public reporting of environmental releases of about 200 different PFAS chemicals under the Toxics Release Inventory starting on January 1, 2020, while requiring EPA to use formal rulemaking processes and scientific evidence in decisions regarding whether to require similar reporting for additional PFAS in the future.
— Issuance of a section 8(a) data call to PFAS manufacturers under the Toxic Substances Control Act to obtain information about which PFAS chemicals were historically manufactured and sold.
— Finalization of EPA’s 2015 proposed Significant New Use Rule on long-chain PFAS under the Toxic Substances Control Act by June, 2020.
— Requirement for EPA to issue guidance on how to dispose of and destroy PFAS and materials containing PFAS.
— Funding for research, require new monitoring and sampling and require better interagency coordination on PFAS chemicals.