Lawmakers seeking to crack down on toxic chemicals suffer another setback

By Allison Stevens

WASHINGTON — An effort to crack down on toxic chemicals has been thwarted again — this time by Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — a Bucks County Republican who has championed the issue in Congress — and other lawmakers were hoping to amend a defense authorization bill this week with a series of strong provisions to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday items and linked to cancer and other serious health problems.

One provision would have required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a national enforceable drinking water standard for certain types of PFAS. Similar language was stripped out of last year’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before it cleared Congress in December.

The amendment, which Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, cosponsored, would also have accelerated the clean-up of the most harmful PFAS chemicals, required the EPA to test health effects for all PFAS chemicals, provided grants to affected water systems and limit industrial PFAS emissions and pollution into the air, water and soil.

It had bipartisan support, including from U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District.

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A Democratic-led committee ruled the amendment out of order Friday. House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a Massachusetts Democrat, sought to limit the number of controversial amendments to the bill this year and raised concerns about the bill’s potential cost, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a champion of the effort, said in an interview. But she dismissed those concerns, saying, “The money’s there.”

PFAS have been found in high concentrations in sources of public drinking water and other sites in Pennsylvania and around the country.

The NDAA, which would authorize funding for the U.S. Department of Defense and other national security programs through fiscal year 2021, is regarded as “must-pass” legislation and is therefore seen as an optimal target for PFAS-related amendments.

The bill is currently under consideration in the House. Other PFAS-related amendments would require manufacturers to disclose PFAS discharges; increase funding to study the issue; require online disclosure of PFAS testing on military installations and former defense sites; and take other steps to address the chemicals.

The Senate isn’t expected to include a provision creating a national drinking standard in its version of the bill.

In May, Dingell sent a letter to Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee calling for “strong” PFAS provisions in the final defense authorization bill and citing her PFAS Action Act, which would also create a national PFAS drinking water standard, among other things. More than 100 lawmakers, including Fitzpatrick, signed on.

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In April, Fitzpatrick co-authored a letter calling on Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee to include the PFAS Action Act in this year’s NDAA.

The PFAS Action Act passed the House in January with bipartisan support. The White House threatened to veto it, claiming it would “create considerable litigation risk, set problematic and unreasonable rulemaking timelines and precedents and impose substantial, unwarranted costs” on agencies and others.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the White House added, is “taking extensive efforts to help communities address PFAS nationwide” through its PFAS Action Plan.

Fitzpatrick vowed to continue to press ahead. “I will continue to fight for my constituents’ right to safe drinking water, and pursue every legislative opportunity to do so,” he said in a statement.

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