March 11, 2019

Congress Shines Light on PFAS Risks

Congressional consideration of action to address the impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is increasing. Last week, the House Oversight & Reform Committee held its first hearing of the new Congress on the issue, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduling a hearing in the coming weeks, and several pieces of legislation have been introduced.

PFAS were manufactured and used in various applications for their water- and stain-repellant properties as well as in fire-fighting foams. Because the chemicals do not break down quickly, there are instances of accumulation in the environment and rising concerns over their health impacts.

The oversight hearing focused on the substance and timing around the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently-released PFAS Action Plan with several Democrats asking if the EPA was pressured to delay the release of its PFAS report.

There was significant conversation surrounding the establishment of a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act – what that level should be set at and what that would mean for the number of entities with contamination issue. Several Members also raised concerns surrounding the impact on land used in agriculture and noted that the United States Department of Agriculture put out a memo last week that focused on identifying groundwater contamination in agricultural areas.

More than substantive content, the hearing demonstrated the heightened focus this issue has, and will continue to receive as the EPA, Department of Defense (DoD) and others work toward an acceptable solution. The House Oversight & Reform Committee does not have any legislative jurisdiction over the issue; however, it will continue to track the appropriateness of the federal government’s response.

The DoD’s extensive use of PFAS ensures that they will continue to be a major stakeholder in the discussion and will likely involve the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Similarly, the agricultural concerns will likely bring the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to the table. The House Energy & Commerce Committee, which does have jurisdiction over the Safe Drinking Water Act, has signaled it will hold a hearing on this issue in April. Because of the severity and complexity of the issue as well as its localized nature, this issue will be front and center in Washington for the foreseeable future.

Witnesses at the Oversight & Reform Committee hearing included Reps. Kildee (D-MI) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who co-chair the bi-partisan Congressional PFAS Task Force. Other witnesses included Assistant Administrator Ross from the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water and Deputy Assistant Secretary Sullivan from the DoD.

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