U.S. House moves to expand PFAS regulation, state bill moves backward

By: and - July 15, 2021 12:02 pm
Firefighters and trucks and helicopter putting out a gasoline fire with firefighting foam flooding the lot

Firefighting foam being used after a barge carrying unleaded fuel exploded 2003, New York City. (Photo by Mike Hvozda/USCG/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON—Members of Congress and Biden administration officials at a conference on Wednesday outlined how they’re attempting to regulate toxic chemicals found in drinking water—including an upcoming vote in the U.S. House.

“Supporters of this bill claim it would provide aid to communities impacted by PFAS, but in reality, it would do just the opposite,” said Tony Wilkin Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, “Not only would the bill let polluters off the hook, it would also jeopardize DNR’s ability to continue providing assistance to impacted communities under the Spills Law.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Elijah Behnke (R-Oconto). Behnke said in his testimony in favor of the bill that “the contamination of PFAS is the worst in my district,” and added that clean water is not a partisan issue. His testimony made no mention of the other aspects of the bill.

Rep. Elijah Behnke | Courtesy of Elijah Behnke

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s Scott Manley. He highlighted what the environmentalists criticized, citing the importance of making sure that any municipality that received a part of the $10 million annually in grants could not “subsequently sue a third party for damages.” He expressed concern that the state put out a request for proposals looking for counsel that could litigate against companies that manufacture, distribute or use PFAS-containing substances. Behnke’s bill contains another provision WMC cited as important: making certain that local governments cannot regulate PFAS. The bill underscores that the state is the sole authority for PFAS standards and regulations.

Neither of those provisions are likely to draw any bipartisan votes as they make regulating and cleaning up PFAS more difficult for government while shielding polluters, despite Behnke’s claim. The Assembly passed the bill on June 22, voting along straight party lines with all Republicans in favor, all Democrats opposed.

Federal bipartisanship

In Congress, however, the current PFAS Action Act has been a bipartisan effort. Dingell, who is leading the bipartisan PFAS Action Act, along with Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, expressed her frustration with a lack of federal standards set for the chemicals in drinking water, as well as cleaning standards.

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.