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Democrats Cave on PFAS

Back in July it seemed too good to be true. That’s when the House of Representatives included an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to force the EPA to designate all PFAS substances “as hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Superfund law. PFAS substances are known to threaten public health.

The amendment, authored by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), would have forced the military, which has released these chemicals into the environment through routine fire-training exercises, to clean up PFAS-contaminated water and soil at more than 400 military bases and their surrounding communities in the U.S.

Now it is apparent the Democratic leadership is buckling to the demands of the Pentagon that the measure be stripped from the NDAA.

When Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced S. 2731 on October 30, which he described as a ‘skinny’ NDAA bill, omitting a provision designating PFAS as hazardous substances, Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed doubts about the likelihood of a stripped-down NDAA passing the House.

But now the Democrat says, “I will not hold up the defense bill over that PFAS provision, as much as I feel like it should be addressed,” CQ reports. “We’re not going to grab something from some other committee’s jurisdiction and jam it into our bill.”

This is a lame explanation.

These momentous decisions are made at the top levels of the party. The Democrats aren’t up to doing battle with the DOD.

No one is.

Congress is happy to kick the PFAS can down the road. It’s predictable and sadly pathetic. And so is the lack of news coverage on PFAS contamination - the greatest public health crisis in American history.

Congress is happy to kick the PFAS can down the road. It’s predictable and sadly pathetic. And so is the lack of news coverage on PFAS contamination - the greatest public health crisis in American history.

Adam Smith was an unlikely character to carry the water that would have resulted in DOD liability in the tens of billions of dollars. The Washington lawmaker’s top contributors include Northrup Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics - three companies that may be adversely affected if Congress mandates a PFAS cleanup.

Although Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cosponsored legislation earlier this year to include all PFAS substances under the Superfund law, he has been publicly silent as the caucus has apparently folded on this amendment. Likewise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, have nothing to add.

In this climate, politicians who support clean water are deemed to be anti-military.

Inhofe and Sen. John Barrasso, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, are the point men for the Pentagon in the Senate. Barrasso argues that imposing Superfund liabilities would be unfair because government and industry have used these chemicals “in good faith.” This is like arguing that the defendants in the Nuremberg Trials should have been exonerated because they acted in good faith. (Think the analogy is misplaced? Google the health effects of PFAS.)

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Barrasso, the top recipient of campaign cash from the chemical industry in the Senate, speaks for the party beholden to the same corporate interests. His logic is an abomination because the DOD and the chemical industry have known for 50 years that these chemicals are deadly.

Barrasso says it’s unfair to subject airports, refineries, wastewater treatment plants, landfills and others who used or handled fire-fighting foam containing PFAS to new regulations because they used the substances in good faith to protect workers and the public at large, or they were unaware of the risks.

However, there’s plenty in the public record to demonstrate that many of these entities knew of the calamitous health effects, hardly what one could call “good faith.”

The point is that someone needs to pick up the tab. People are dying. It’s apparent that the federal government and the DOD have no intention of doing so, and if Barrasso gets his way - and it’s likely he will - No one will be required to remediate the contamination while these entities will be allowed to continue poisoning people.

How did it come to this? How could elected officials in the highest legislative body in the land become so callous and so dismissive when faced with an historic public health crisis like this? Sure, Barrasso is the Senate’s top recipient of cash from the chemical industry, and he comes from a tiny state with disproportionate power and a population one-tenth the size of Maryland’s, but it goes deeper than that.

Barrasso is the consummate member of a team locked in a battle with opposing forces, like the camaraderie and hype surrounding a homecoming football game against archrivals. Barrasso and his party are consumed by the battle with the Democrats.

Consider Washington’s warning in his Farewell Address of 1796:

The spirit of party serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill- founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

If Barrasso is the leading receiver, Inhofe is the quarterback and star player on home team. The two have their own cheering section made up of the following entities who are apparently more concerned with their bottom line than human health:

The following associations wrote to Inhofe on August 29th to share their opposition to subjecting PFAS to CERCLA:

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Airlines for America
  • Airports Council International – North America
  • American Chemistry Council
  • American Coatings Association
  • American Forest & Paper Association
  • American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • Flexible Packaging Association
  • International Liquid Terminals Association
  • National Association of Chemical Distributors
  • National Association of Manufacturers
  • Petroleum Marketers Association of America
  • Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS)
  • Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates
  • TRSA, the Linen, Uniform, and Facility Services Association

These folks want you to continue buying their products and services, while it’s none of their concern if their activities may be killing you.

pat elder 2019

Pat Elder
Truthout