Congress close to striking landmark PFAS deal, Chairman says

By David Schultz | Bloomberg Environment | November 14, 2019

Read the full article by David Schultz  (Bloomberg Environment)

Congress’ two chambers have largely resolved their differences over which provisions relating to “forever chemicals” should stay in an annual defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee chairman said Nov. 13.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the lawmakers negotiating over this bill have reached agreement on issues such as setting a deadline for the Pentagon to adopt a replacement firefighting foam that doesn’t contain these chemicals, and on forcing the Environmental Protection Agency to establish nationwide drinking water regulations for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

“I think we’ve worked that stuff out,” Smith told reporters. 

However, he said the House and Senate haven’t yet agreed on whether to add these chemicals to the EPA’s hazardous substances list. Doing this would force the Pentagon to pay for cleanups at sites contaminated with PFAS through the EPA’s Superfund program.

“That’s what we’re still hassling with,” Smith said.

‘Forever Chemicals’

PFAS are a common ingredient in firefighting foam and nonstick coatings such as Teflon and Scotchgard. Their resistance to breaking down in the environment, along with their presence in underground drinking water aquifers, have earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

The House (H.R. 2500) and the Senate (S. 1790) each passed their own versions of the annual defense bill this summer. Both bills contain numerous provisions that would change the way federal officials regulate PFAS.

However, this legislation, which typically clears Congress every year before the end of the calendar year, has been mired in a dispute about President Donald Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to move funds out of the Pentagon’s budget to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Smith said he believes House and Senate negotiators are close to agreeing on legislation that resolves this conflict, and that the president will sign it. However, he would not provide a timeline.

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