Wolf, 14 govs. tell Congress to include strong PFAS provisions in defense bill

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined a bipartisan group of 15 governors in a letter sent Wednesday to both the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees backing provisions related to per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Congressional lawmakers from Pennsylvania, including U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, and Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, have signed onto measures aimed at fighting and more tightly regulating PFAS, which are contained in firefighting foam found in many current and former military bases, such as the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Montgomery County, and, now Fort Indiantown Gap, in Lebanon County.

The chemicals have leached into groundwater, surface water and nearby private wells used for drinking water in many locations.

However, the Trump administration has taken issue with several of the measures.

Last week, Dean, whose Montgomery County-based district includes the shuttered Willow Grove installation, teamed with some her fellow Democrats on a bill aimed at protecting children on military bases nationwide from the water contaminants.

The bill would require the Pentagon to test kids living on bases across the nation to track their exposure to the toxic chemical compounds that have been linked to decreased fertility and immunity and an increased risk of cancer.

The “chemicals have long been used in a range of consumer products, and the military continues to use aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in firefighting training exercises,” Dean’s office said in a statement.

Fitzpatrick, along with U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., are partnering on a bill requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a nationwide, enforceable standard for PFAS contaminants.

Right now, the federal government doesn’t have legally enforceable regulations for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported earlier this year.

“It is past time we address these contaminants with the seriousness they merit,” Boyle said in a statement earlier this year. “Public health is at stake while the EPA continues to dither and delay setting enforceable limits on these chemicals. This is unacceptable … No American should question the safety of their drinking water — period.”

Other governors signing on are: Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, John Carney of Delaware, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Jay Inslee of Washington, Ralph Northam of Virginia, Phil Scott of Vermont, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Tim Walz of Minnesota.

They urge that the final legislation include the strongest provisions from both the U.S. House and Senate bills, including the following:

  • Require the EPA to set an enforceable, nationwide drinking water standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS within two years of enactment, while preserving states’ authority to enact their own, more stringent standards.
  • Require the EPA to list PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) within one year.
  • Require the EPA to revise the list of toxic pollutants under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) to include PFAS and publish effluent and pretreatment standards.
  • Phase out the use of PFAS in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) as quickly as possible.
  • Urge the DoD to finalize cooperative agreements with states and partner with governors to test, monitor, remove and remediate PFAS contamination originating from DoD activities, including at decommissioned military installations and National Guard facilities. Require — if a cooperative agreement is not reached within one year of the request from a state — the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress with an explanation of why an agreement has not been reached. Remediation should satisfy both federal and state/local remediation targets.
  • Grant the National Guard Bureau access to specific environmental remediation program funding in FY 2020.
  • Authorize the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to develop advanced testing methods capable of detecting PFAS, and to conduct nationwide sampling for these chemicals — focusing first on areas near drinking water with known or suspected PFAS contamination.
  • Require the DoD to treat and clean PFAS-contaminated water used for agricultural purposes.
  • Require public disclosure, as part of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) annual reports, when environmental releases of about 200 PFAS chemicals occur, including PFOS and PFOA.

Susan J. Demas is the Editor of the Michigan Advance, a sister site to the Capital-Star, where this story first appeared. 

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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