PFAS substances are a group of man-made chemicals that were made and used in a variety of industries around the globe—and these chemicals are making their way into drinking water systems across the country, particularly in communities near military installations or industrial sites.
14 local leaders from the National League of Cities (NLC) Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources (EENR) Committee and the Military Communities Council (MCC) are setting out to change that.
After meeting at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in March, the two committees were deeply concerned by Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and the implications they have on the health and safety of their communities. The two committees decided to establish a subcommittee to jointly develop a resolution outlining local government concerns, as well as the need for congressional and administrative action. The subcommittee members are:
- Andrea Barefield, Councilmember, Waco, TX
- Deb Calvert, Councilmember, Minnetonka, MN
- Wally Campbell, Vice Mayor, Goodyear, AZ
- Margaret Clark, Mayor Pro Tem, Rosemead, CA
- Jane Goodman, Councilmember, South Euclid, OH
- Benjamin Huseman, Councilmember, Commerce City, CO
- Carly Johnson, Councilmember, Oak Park Heights, MN
- Chantia Lewis, Councilmember, Milwaukee, WI
- Julius Oliver, Councilmember, Youngstown, OH
- Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Mayor, Lacey, WA
- Ellen Smith, Councilmember, Oak Ridge, TN
- Nancy Smith, Councilmember, Sunnyvale, CA
- Gill Sorg, Mayor Pro Tem, Las Cruces, NM
- John Suthers, Mayor, Colorado Springs, CO
The resolution will focus on the local government role in addressing PFAS contamination (as water suppliers and owners of landfills and airports); local government concerns (economic and public health risks); and recommendations for Congress and the administration to address the problem. The subcommittee will present the resolution to the EENR Committee for consideration in June.
Congressional Action is Underway
Following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action plan to address PFAS nationwide, Congressional leaders have introduced a number of bills to survey, regulate and mitigate PFAS.
In February, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) led a bipartisan letter to then acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging the agency to develop federal drinking water standards for two of the PFAS chemicals – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
Leaders from both the House and Senate hope to move legislation forward in the short term. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing on 13 PFAS-related bills on May 15 and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on May 22. One of the major sticking points that has emerged during this federal debate is whether the EPA should be required to set drinking water standards for the entire class of more than 5,000 varieties of PFAS chemicals or just PFOA and PFOS, which are the most studied and well known.
Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY) has said lawmakers’ should focus on crafting bills that will help “how we can better monitor, better reduce exposure, expedite cleanups, dispose of these chemicals safely and much more.”
On May 15, House Energy and Commerce Democrats released a broad infrastructure bill for clean energy, broadband and drinking water that includes $2.5 billion in funding to establish a new grant program for communities affected by PFAS chemicals.
Appropriations bills are another possible vehicle for addressing PFAS contamination. Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY20 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill that would provide $60 million for cleaning up PFAS at military bases. About $14 million in current defense spending is marked for PFAS cleanup. Additionally, the House Interior-EPA spending bill includes $18 million in new funding to study PFAS.
Updated PFAS Contamination Map
In early May, the Environmental Working Group released an updated version of their interactive map “PFAS Contamination in the U.S.” The updated map shows that PFAS contamination is truly a nationwide problem, impacting millions of Americans. As of March 2019, the map shows at least 610 locations in 43 states are known to be contaminated, including drinking water systems serving an estimated 19 million people. Michigan has 192 contamination sites, California has 47, and New Jersey has 43.
America cannot continue to ignore PFAS and water contamination as a serious and growing issue. If we want to build up cities, towns and villages towards a prosperous future, every level of government must work together to address and eliminate the growing PFAS problem in our water supply. As Congress and the administration move forward, NLC encourages local leaders to share their stories.
About the Authors: Carolyn Berndt is the program director for infrastructure and sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.
Domenick Lasorsa is the associate for Veterans and Special Needs in the NLC Center for City Solutions. Follow Domenick on Twitter at @DomLasorsa