With Congress adjourned for the summer and Members of Congress back in their home states and districts for the August recess until after Labor Day, NACWA urges all of its members to use this time to engage with their respective Senators and Representatives about the unintended consequences and problematic nature of two PFAS provisions/amendments on public clean water utilities that were included in the recently passed House version of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 2500.
In order to aid in this important advocacy outreach, NACWA strongly encourages all members to use this template letter when writing Members of Congress. Also, please consider using this template op-ed to place in local newspapers to increase awareness of this important issue for both the public and elected leaders.
Over the past year, NACWA has been deeply engaged with Congress on legislation to address the PFAS issue in a manner that ensures a proper scientific and regulatory process to provide public utilities with the best tools available to protect public health and the environment. NACWA’s primary objective has been in support of policies that follow the “polluter pays” approach to hold manufacturers responsible for PFAS that is now being found in the nation’s waters, and also to ensure that any policies take into account potential unintended consequences on public clean water utilities and their ratepayers.
As a result, NACWA and the clean water sector were successful this past spring and summer in working with the Senate as they went through regular committee and legislative order to ensure potentially harmful PFAS provisions on the sector were ultimately NOT included in final passage of their version of the NDAA, S. 1790.
Unfortunately, the House did not go through regular order in considering PFAS issues in its version of the NDAA. Due to political pressure on House Democrats to secure enough votes on the NDAA, unrelated non-defense provisions including some on PFAS were added as amendments hours before the bill was brought to the House floor for consideration.
The two amendments of concern in H.R. 2500—one amendment offered by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and the other amendment by Reps. Dingell (D-MI) and Dan Kildee (D-MI)—would trigger liability for all PFAS chemicals under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) as hazardous substances, potentially imposing Superfund liability for biosolids containing PFAS. Additionally, the Pappas amendment would add all PFAS to the Clean Water Act (CWA) toxic pollutants list, require EPA to develop CWA effluent limitations for PFAS, and also require pretreatment standards for PFAS.
NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and others in the water sector worked hard during consideration of these amendments by the House to outline their unintended consequences on public clean water utilities, especially when there is not enough scientific evidence yet to determine their actual risk to public health from biosolids and wastewater effluent. Unfortunately, given the tough political nature of the PFAS issue, both amendments passed by a voice vote and were included in the final House passed NDAA version.
However, thanks to the strong outreach and advocacy by NACWA members during the week of the vote, the problematic nature of these amendments on the public clean water sector was effectively highlighted with many key Congressional offices. In particular, NACWA appreciates the remarks of Rep. Kildee during his floor speech on the amendment clarifying that his intent is to protect public health and go after polluters that are the source of PFAS and pledging to work with utilities as the bill moves though the conference committee process to address the water sector’s concerns.
NACWA Member Call to Action and PFAS Advocacy Tools
While our collective advocacy up to this point has been vital in helping lay the groundwork for NACWA, WEF and others to work with Congress during the NDAA conference committee process this August and early fall, further NACWA member engagement with Congress is crucial to ensuring any final PFAS language properly reflects the public clean water sector’s concerns in an appropriate, scientifically justified manner. Now is the time for Members of Congress to hear from utilities throughout their states and districts about the importance of ensuring sound, workable PFAS legislation.
Accordingly, NACWA is issuing an urgent call to action to our members to engage with your federal elected officials and your local media. To assist in this process, we have developed two tools for you to use.
First, we drafted a template letter to use when contacting your Members of Congress – both in the House and Senate. The letter does not get into specific legislative language proposals (NACWA and WEF staff will be working directly with congressional staff on that) but instead is intended to deliver a few key messages – namely, that PFAS contamination is an important issue and that public clean water utilities are prepared to do our part to address it, but that we need sound science to first determine what the actual risk is, if any, from PFAS in the context of the wastewater treatment process. The letter highlights the potential unintended consequences of the language included in the House NDAA bill and encourages Congress not to let politics get out in front of sound, science-based policy.
Second, the template op-ed seeks to deliver a similar message via local media sources in a way that the public/ratepayers and policy-makers can readily understand. To the extent you can personalize the letter and/or op-ed with examples of how the proposed House PFAS language could have unintended negative consequences on your utility and/or your ratepayers, that would also be welcome and effective.
Thank you for your engagement on this critical advocacy issue. If you do end up sending a letter to Congress or submitting an op-ed – or if you have any questions about this issue – please contact NACWA’s Directors of Legislative Affairs, Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus.