House Passes Legislation to Address PFAS Contamination

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Last year, as Congressional action on PFAS drinking water contamination stalled, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) vowed to bring a standalone package to the House floor in January. Last week, he made good on that promise and the House passed the PFAS Action Act (H.R. 535), by a bipartisan vote of 247-159.

The bill would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate two types of PFAS substances (PFOA and PFOS, the two most well-known and studied chemicals) as hazardous materials under CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act). Additionally, it would require EPA to develop a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS within two years of enactment.

There was concern raised over these provisions from water utilities and echoed by NLC, particularly with the CERCLA designation, that it could make local governments and water utilities liable for cleanup costs even though they are not responsible for the contamination.

The bill is not expected to advance in the Senate and President Trump has issued a veto threat. With local governments facing challenges around contaminated drinking water, the next major action is likely to come from EPA under the Agency’s PFAS Action Plan. The Agency is expected to release its Regulatory Determination on whether the agency should issue a National Primary Drinking Water Standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act early this year.

Additionally, H.R.535 would:

  • Require EPA to review and develop discharge limits, pretreatment standards and water quality criteria for PFAS under the Clean Water Act.
  • Authorize $100 million per year for FY21-25 for grants for publicly owned treatment works to implement pretreatment standards.
  • Create a PFAS Infrastructure Grant for affected community water systems to pay for capital costs associated with the implementation of treatment technologies, authorized at $125 million per year for FY20-24.
  • Allow Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to be used to address PFAS contamination.
  • Make it illegal for an industrial facility to introduce PFAS into a sewage treatment system without first disclosing information about that substance to the utility.
  • Create a tool on EPA’s website for people to understand their test results for their water wells and connect them to local health officials – allocating $1 million for fiscal 2021.
  • Ensure that the Federal Aviation Administration and local inspectors and fire marshals are included in discussions about the risks posed when using PFAS in foam for aviation hangars.
  • Require EPA to find ways to prevent GenX, a type of PFAS, from contaminating water sources.
  • Clarify that communities affected by GenX contamination are eligible for grants.
  • Require EPA to develop a national communication strategy to inform the public about PFAS hazards.
  • Require EPA to offer public comment on technologies that are considered effective at removing PFAS from drinking water.
  • Require EPA to submit an annual report to Congress on efforts to reduce exposure by firefighters and other first responders to PFAS.
  • Require EPA to report to Congress on efforts to identify viable alternatives to firefighting foam and other related equipment containing PFAS.
  • Require EPA to issue a final ruling listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act within 180 days.

NLC supported provisions relating to grants for local governments contaminated with PFAS for treatment technologies, as well as allowing use of Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; finding alternatives to using PFAS firefighting foam; soliciting information on technologies for removing PFAS from drinking water; and developing a communications and public education campaign.

As Congress and the Administration move forward, NLC encourages local leaders to share their stories.

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About the Author: Carolyn Berndt is the program director for infrastructure and sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.