House Passes PFAS Legislation
Today, the House overwhelmingly passed the PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) 247 to 159. Two dozen Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the bill. The bill now goes to the Senate. Senate adoption is considered remote, but pieces of H.R. 535 could become part of a Senate bill. Senate Republicans continue to stand in strong opposition to the package, with the Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman, John Barrasso (R-WY), stating in response to the House passage that legislation has “no prospects in the Senate.” The White House has also publicly threatened to veto H.R. 535.
Along with the passage of the bill, the House adopted Representative Chris Pappas’ (D-NH) amendment that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to review and develop effluent standards, pretreatment standards, and water quality criteria for PFAS chemicals introduced or discharged by industries, other than publicly owned treatment works. It authorizes $100 million in funding to support publicly owned treatment works implement mandates related to pretreatment standards.
In addition to Pappas’ amendment, the House passed 16 other amendments to H.R. 535, including:
- Authorizes $125 million to fund the PFAS Infrastructure Grant Program for each of the fiscal years 2020 and 2021, of which $25 million is to assist affected community water systems that have previously implemented eligible treatment technologies.
- Creating a tool on USEPA website to help the public understand testing results for their well water and connect them to local health and government resources and $1 million to support this activity.
- Making it illegal for industry to introduce PFAS into sewage treatment systems without first disclosing information about the discharge.
- Adding the term “disproportionately exposed communities” to the category of “disadvantaged communities.”
- Authorizing the PFAS Infrastructure Grant Program for an additional three years at $100 million.
- Requiring a study of USEPA’s actions under CERCLA to clean-up PFAS contaminated sites.
Administration Unveils NEPA Revisions
This week, the Administration released its proposal to revise the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Entitled the “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” the proposed rule would streamline NEPA’s regulatory laws to help expedite infrastructure projects. The proposed rule fact sheet explains that the revisions aims to “updat[e] the regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, eliminating obsolete provisions, and improving the format and readability of the regulations.” There will be a 60-day public comment period on the rulemaking. The formal notice will appear in the Federal Register in the coming days.
The rulemaking addresses four key topics.
- Modernize, Simplify and Accelerate the NEPA Process
- Establish presumptive time limits of two years to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) and one year to complete environmental assessments (EAs).
- Require joint schedules, a single EIS, and a single record of decision (when appropriate) for EIS involving multiple agencies.
- Strengthen the role of the lead agency and require senior agency officials to resolve disputes in a timely manner to avoid delays.
- Promote the use of modern technologies for information sharing and public outreach.
- Clarify Terms, Applications and Scope of NEPA Review
- Provide direction regarding the threshold consideration of whether NEPA applies to a particular action.
- Require earlier solicitation of input from the public to ensure informed decision-making.
- Require comments be specific and timely.
- Require agencies summarize alternatives, analyses, and information submitted by commenters and to certify consideration of submitted information in the record of decision.
- Simplify the definition of environmental “effects” and clarify that the effects must be reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close, causal relationship to the proposed action.
- State that the analysis of the cumulative effects is not required under NEPA.
- Clarify that “major Federal action” does not include non-discretionary decisions and non-Federal projects (those with minimal Federal funding or involvement).
- Clarify that “reasonable alternatives” requiring consideration must be technically and economically feasible.
- Enhance Coordination with States, Tribes, and Localities
- Reduce duplication by facilitating use of documents required by other statutes or prepared by State, Tribal, and local agencies to comply with NEPA.
- Ensure appropriate consultation with affected Tribal governments and agencies.
- Eliminate the provisions in the current regulations that limit Tribal interest to reservations.
- Reduce Unnecessary Burdens, Delays
- Facilitate use of efficient reviews (categorical exclusions (CEs), environmental assessments).
- Allow agencies to establish procedures for adopting other agencies’ CEs.
Senate Committee Reviews Nonpoint Source Program
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing this week to consider the states’ views of the effectiveness of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Nonpoint Source Program (NSP) from the States’ perspectives. Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), stressed NSP’s importance, noting that the program correctly recognizes “the best way to address nonpoint source pollution is to empower states” because it allows states to develop solutions that work best for them. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), highlighted the critical role NPS plays in protecting water quality and ecosystems and emphasized the need for the continued support of NPS in the future.
Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) noted that Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination occurs from nonpoint sources, such as the landuse application of sewage sludge and biosolids. She asked the witnesses if they are aware of this pollution source and what their states are doing to address this form of nonpoint source pollution.
Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Environment, Maryland Department of the Environment, testified that Maryland is looking at the issue of PFAS contamination through biosolids and is still gathering data to determine the prevalence of contamination and whether it is a problem. He said the issue is on their radar. Jennifer Zygmunt, Nonpoint Source Program Coordinator, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said that she is not aware of PFAS contamination through the application of biosolids on lands in Wyoming.
Gillibrand followed up, asking what can be done at the federal level to address this form of PFAS contamination. Grumbles suggested that Congress should continue to push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop data and regulatory tools to manage the issue.
S. 3160, A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act to modify the payment periods of loans from State revolving funds under those Acts, and for other purposes. – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
S. 3157, A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to reinstate the financing for the Hazardous Substance Superfund, and for other purposes. – Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
S. 3171, A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reauthorize the National Estuary Program, and for other purposes. – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Reports and Regulation
New USGS online tools for watershed managers – Online interactive modeling and mapping tool of the streams and watersheds across the U.S., along with the yields of nutrient and sediment loads, to help land and resources managers prioritize water quality efforts.
Draft Water Resilience Portfolio – California Natural Resources Agency’s response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-10-19.
Research will help land managers take risk-analysis approach to new wildfire reality – Report on tools developed by Oregon University to help land managers adapt to the new realities of large-scale wildfires.
Congress Next Week
January 14, 2020
House Committee on Natural Resources – Hearing on the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Legislation