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Rules clamping down on ‘forever chemicals’ clear a key regulatory hurdle | Wednesday Morning Coffee

The state Environmental Quality Board approved new limits on PFAS chemicals in water, but work remains

November 17, 2021 7:13 am

Photo by PxHere.com

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

New rules setting stricter limits on so-called “forever chemicals” in water supplies cleared a key regulatory hurdle, but it likely will take months before they have the force of law behind them.

The state Environmental Quality Board voted 17-2 to approve the regulatory change sought by the state Department of Environmental Protection that would set maximum contaminant limits on two forms of PFAS chemicals that can cause severe health problems.

The chemicals are used for a variety of purposes, including making waterproof cosmetics, stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting, and non-stick cookware. They’re also used in fire-fighting foam at military installations, leading to contamination at scores of military bases, including the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in suburban Philadelphia.

The chemicals pose a significant public health risk. They’ve been linked to cancer and other serious health problems, the Capital-Star reported in 2020.

In a statement, DEP said the proposed rules will set stricter ceilings than standards currently used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“This rule-making not only protects our environment from elevated levels of contamination and pollution, but also protects the public health of Pennsylvanians,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.

Photo via pxHere.com

The state-level action comes amid a time of heightened action on the federal level when it comes to the contaminants.

The Biden administration has announced what it’s describing as an “accelerated effort,” spread across a variety of federal agencies, to protect Americans from the contaminants, this column reported last month. Those agencies include the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“To safeguard public health and protect the environment, the efforts being announced will help prevent PFAS from being released into the air, drinking systems, and food supply, and the actions will expand cleanup efforts to remediate the impacts of these harmful pollutants,” the administration said in a fact-sheet announcing the initiative.

In July, the majority-Democrat U.S. House passed legislation that would not only regulate the chemicals, but also designate them as hazardous substances that would spark federal cleanup standards, the Capital-Star previously reported.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican whose Bucks County-based district has been impacted by the contaminants, was one of 23 GOP lawmakers who crossed over to vote with Democrats on the bill.

In an email, David Masur, the executive director of the advocacy group PennEnvironment, welcomed the state’s action, with some caveats.

“It’s great that state officials are recognizing the significant threat posed by PFAS and taking steps to address this pollution,” he said “Most importantly, it’s good that state officials are setting relatively low limits on 2 types of PFAS in drinking water.

“But if we’re going to fully protect public health, state leaders must do more and move faster–there are thousands of types of PFAS and other states have set limits on more of them,” Masur continued. “If we’re going to regulate PFAS 2-by-2, we’ll never get through the list of thousands and truly protect public health.”

Speaking of caveats, it’s going to be a while before these regulations have any teeth to them. While it’s an important first step, Tuesday’s vote by the EQB was just that — a first step.

And if you’ve ever seen the Schoolhouse RockI’m Just a Bill” cartoon, well, that’s a cake walk compared to what lies ahead.

Here’s the rundown, according to the state’s official chapter-and-verse:

After Tuesday’s initial EQB vote, the proposed regulations still must be reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office, as well as the Office of General Counsel and the Governor’s Budget Office, within Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

Once that happens, the proposed rules are published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, which is expected to come next year. That, in turn, sparks a 60-day public comment period. The state also will hold at least five public hearings on the proposed rule change.

After gathering all that comment, the rules go back to the Environmental Quality Board, which votes on whether to adopt a final regulation. The rules then get a legislative review, as well as a vote by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

If the rules clear IRCC and legislative review, the rules go back to the Attorney General’s Office for one more look-see. If all is well, it gets published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin again, and then, and only then, has the full force of law.

The thing about water, though: sooner or later it gets to where it needs to go.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Marley Parish talks to Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, who officially launched his long-expected bid for the GOP’s 2022 gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday.

Absent further legal action, Pennsylvania’s universal mask mandate for K-12 schools and child care facilities will end in December, a state appellate court judge said Tuesday, Marley Parish also reports.

As the former head of the top national bail bonds industry group lobbies lawmakers, a bill that would treat nonprofits that free people from pre-trial detention the same as for-profit companies has quickly and quietly advanced in Harrisburg this monthStephen Caruso reports.

Despite a looming veto threat, a bill to allow anyone in Pennsylvania over the age of 18 the right to carry a concealed firearm is on its way to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk after it passed the state House on Tuesday, Stephen Caruso also reports.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, the newly minted chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucushas tested positive for COVID-19, his office said in a tersely worded statement on Tuesday. Story from me.

Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper take a look at what the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill could mean for Amtrak and Pennsylvania (spoiler alert: way more train trips).

Community College of Philadelphia President Donald Generals has been honored for his work promoting democracy and civic engagement on campus, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Joseph Minott of the Clean Air Council says state regulators must determine if hazardous ‘forever chemicals’ were used in fracking. And ‘Yellowstone‘ might be the perfect political soap opera for our fractious times, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan, joined by Elizabethtown College political science student Andrew Furman, writes.

(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News)

Elsewhere.
A juror in the Dougherty-Henon corruption trial tells the Inquirer the court case taught them an ‘appalling’ lesson about Philadelphia city government.

And IBEW Local 98 boss John Dougherty has resigned his post in the wake of his conviction, WHYY-FM reports.

The University of Pittsburgh has nabbed a $100 million infusion to build a new biomanufacturing hub on a brownfield site, the Tribune-Review reports.

A state House committee has backed language guaranteeing the right to refuse vaccinesPennLive reports.

Filter, an online publication, profiles a senior data official inside the state Department of CorrectionsKristofer “Bret” Bucklen. 

The state House has approved a bill blocking PennDOT’s planned tolling of bridges across the state, the Associated Press reports (via the Morning Call).

Two regional police departments in York County will merge to save on costs, the York Daily Record reports.

Scranton City Council has rolled out a nearly $117 million spending plan for the next fiscal year, the Times-Tribune reports (paywall).

Police and constables in Pennsylvania have joined the anti-government Oath KeepersWITF-FM reports.

Outgoing Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper and County Council Chairman Carl Anderson are at odds over whether Dahlkemper tried to push last-minute appointeesGoErie reports.

A special prosecutor has dropped DUI charges against the son of Fayette County District Attorney Richard Bower Sr., the Observer-Reporter reports.

Looking at rising revenues, some states are going on a spending spreeStateline.org reports.

Here’s Your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House comes in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Transportation Committee
9:30 a.m., 523 Irvis: House Human Services Committee
10 a.m., Capitol Steps: Drone Awareness Day (Could be the flying machines, could be pithy commentary on the state of our debate. Who can tell?)
10 a.m., University of the Sciences, Philadelphia: Senate Environmental Resources &  Energy Committee
10 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee
10 a.m., B31 Main Capitol: House Commerce Committee
11:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: Brain Injury Awareness Day rally including injury survivors speaking
1:30 p.m., Capitol Steps: Rally for Fair School Funding
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Jim Cox
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Seth Grove
11:30 a.m.: Luncheon for Sen. Pat Browne
Ride the circuit, and give. at the max, and you’re out a mere $6,500 today.

WolfWatch
Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Carlisle, Pa., for a 2 p.m. newser touting new manufacturing jobs.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a classic by the late, great LCD Soundsystem. It’s ‘Dance Yrself Clean.’


Wednesday’s Hockey Link
Carolina bested Vegas 4-2 in a late game out west on Tuesday night. The red-hot ‘Canes are 12-2, and sit atop the Metropolitan Division.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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