House bill aims to shield water systems, ratepayers from PFAS costs

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide a statutory shield for water systems under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for PFAS, and help ensure that polluters, not the public, pay for PFAS cleanup.

The bill, H.R. 7944 – the Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act – was introduced by Reps. John Curtis (R-Utah) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) in April, and is a companion bill to Senate legislation introduced by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) last year, according to NACWA.

The bill would provide statutory protection for water utilities in light of the designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under CERCLA. Water groups like NACWA have said a CERCLA designation for PFAS exposes drinking water and wastewater utilities to potential litigation from the manufacturers of PFAS.

“The impacts that a PFAS CERCLA hazardous substance designation will have on the ability of the water sector to deliver affordable water services cannot be overstated,” said Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), earlier in April prior to the CERCLA designation being finalized on Friday.

EPA designates PFOA, PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA

“We need a true ‘polluter pays’ model that holds accountable the parties responsible for PFAS contamination,” Krantz added. “But given the ubiquity of PFAS after decades of use – and their ongoing release into our waterways from industrial sites, commercial uses, and household products – broad CERCLA designations would instead threaten the financial stability of water utilities all across the U.S. NACWA thanks Rep. Curtis and Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez for working in a bipartisan fashion to shield communities from these misplaced burdens and appropriately refocusing liability on PFAS producers.”

In March, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing in which witnesses documented the potential impact to water systems and their customers of a CERCLA designation due to the pervasiveness of PFAS in the environment. The prevalence of PFAS means that drinking water and wastewater systems, which passively receive these substances into their systems, would face CERCLA liability through their efforts to actually remove PFAS from water supplies and provide clean and safe water. The Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act, NACWA explained, would protect water systems and their customers from this “unjust outcome” of EPA’s proposed rule.

EPA announced an “enforcement discretion” policy Friday along with the final CERCLA designation, saying it intends to focus on polluters that are responsible for the contamination and have profited from PFAS. Rep. Curtis said such a policy will be “insufficient to ensure that drinking water and clean water ratepayers will be permanently protected from CERCLA legal defense costs and cleanup liability for PFAS.”

Sources: Rep. John Curtis’ office, NACWA

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