Congress Returns to DC; House Tees up PFAS Legislation

(January 8, 2020) – Congress returned to Washington this week from the holidays and the U.S. House, led by its Democratic Majority, is eager to vote on legislation to regulate PFAS.

The House announced that it will vote this week – likely on Thursday – on an amended H.R. 535, which was advanced out of the Energy & Commerce Committee in November. As previously reported, this package includes problematic provisions designating PFAS compounds as a hazardous substance under federal CERCLA/Superfund law with no exemptions for public drinking water or clean water utilities.  The bill also would enact new restrictions on incineration of any PFAS-containing compounds, and there are several provisions that are concerning to the drinking water sector along with PFAS-related changes to other statutes that would not impact the water sector directly.

NACWA anticipates that the House package will pass along mostly party lines – but the bill has no viable path forward in the Senate and will not become law.  Given that House Democrats did not get many of their PFAS concerns addressed in last year’s final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), this bill represents their opportunity to advance their priorities on a mainly partisan basis.

Key House staff worked over the holidays and into this week to ready the package for a House Floor vote. A manager’s amendment package was released by Democratic leaders Tuesday January 7th, to remove several PFAS-related provisions that were less controversial and therefore already passed into law in December as part of the NDAA.

Approximately 40 additional amendments were offered by Members of Congress this week. Most significantly for the clean water sector is an amendment to set Clean Water Act (CWA) effluent standards, pretreatment standards, and water quality criteria for PFAS. This bipartisan amendment is a revised version of a proposal introduced by Rep. Pappas (D-NH) last summer which passed without appropriate debate as part of the House NDAA, but was ultimately stripped out from the final NDAA after significant push-back from NACWA and other sector organizations.  It is not clear yet wither this CWA language will be included in the overall legislative package or not. 

NACWA staff discussed with key Hill staff last year, and into this week, the numerous concerns with the CWA proposal, and offered recommendations for how the proposal would need to improve in order to be potentially viable and workable for public utilities while respecting the regulatory process and need for sound science on PFAS. NACWA is pleased that the revised version addresses many, though not all, of the Association’s concerns and offers a more reasonable path forward on addressing PFAS under the Clean Water Act. NACWA looks forward to discussing this proposal more with the Association’s membership at the upcoming Winter Conference.  

As mentioned above, the House is likely to pass the bill with largely Democratic support this week, but the bill is not looked upon favorably in the Republican-controlled Senate. Accordingly, there is no viable path forward for this legislative package to become law anytime soon.

Nevertheless, NACWA anticipates an ongoing push by concerned Members of Congress to advance provisions in the bill as part of other efforts in 2020, such as the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  NACWA will remain engaged throughout the coming year on this legislative issue and will keep the membership updated. Contact Kristina Surfus or Jason Isakovic, NACWA’s Legislative Directors, with any questions or to discuss further.