AMWA: House panel divided as PFAS reform advances

According to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the House Energy and Commerce Committee split largely along party lines last week when approving a package of legislation intended to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seemed to be in agreement, however, on amending the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to expedite the regulation of the chemicals. Those changes to the SDWA regulatory process have drawn consistent objections from AMWA and other water sector organizations.

As approved by the committee last week, the amended version of the PFAS Action Act (H.R. 535) would:

  • Designate all PFAS as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, which would automatically make all PFAS hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA);
  • Require EPA to specifically designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA within one year, without exempting drinking water and wastewater systems from liability following the legal disposal of water treatment byproducts containing PFAS;
  • Direct EPA to promulgate a national primary drinking water regulation for PFOA and PFOS within two years, and establish an expedited process for the regulation of additional PFAS under SDWA;
  • Require EPA to issue a drinking water health advisory whenever the agency finalizes a toxicity value and a validated testing procedure for a PFAS, unless EPA finds the PFAS is unlikely to occur in drinking water at a “sufficient frequency”; and
  • Authorize an additional $500 million over five years through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and $200 million over two years for an EPA grant program, each to help community water systems address PFAS in water supplies.

AMWA says it wrote to lawmakers warning that the legislation “fails to protect water system ratepayers from liability for PFAS cleanup costs” and moves away from SDWA’s established regulatory process for emerging contaminants, “potentially leading to new regulations that lack the appropriate scientific scrutiny.”

However, recognizing that the Senate has already approved PFAS legislation that carries similar SDWA reforms and health advisory provisions, committee Republicans offered their own proposal that essentially ceded those points but omitted language on designating PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA. The Republican proposal failed along party lines, but the Democrats’ amended version of H.R. 535 passed the committee on a 31-19 vote, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in support.

H.R. 535 now goes before the full House, where it is likely to serve as a negotiating tool when House and Senate leaders work to complete a defense policy bill that is expected to carry some PFAS provisions. A major sticking point in the defense negotiations is whether to include a CERCLA designation for PFAS, so the House committee’s approval of this provision can be seen as an endorsement of its place in the final defense bill. Other PFAS provisions under consideration for the defense bill, such as the proposed SDWA changes and health advisory requirements, appear less controversial to lawmakers (as they have now been approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Senate), and therefore have a good chance to be part of any final defense agreement.

Information contained in this news update was first published in AMWA’s Monday Morning Briefing on Nov. 25.

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