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Dingell, Bipartisan Lawmakers Call on NDAA Conference Committee to Include Strong PFAS Cleanup Provisions in Defense Authorization Bill

Washington, October 22, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell led a letter with 68 other bipartisan Members of Congress to Conference Committee members for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act urging them to include strong cleanup provisions that will safeguard the public and our environment from harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemical contamination. Signers of the letter make clear they could not support any final defense authorization report from the conferees that does not include meaningful PFAS cleanup provisions under the Superfund program and the Clean Water Act.

A copy of the letter can be found linked here or below.

“In the FY2020 NDAA, we have the opportunity to take serious action and accelerate the clean-up process where PFAS contamination exists,” said the Members. “While we remain open to good faith negotiations and finding common ground, this must be taken seriously. The health of all Americans, our servicemembers, and the environment, now and for future generations, is at stake.”

“Meaningful PFAS provisions were adopted in both the House and Senate authorization bills that we should be able to find common ground on. We cannot, in good conscience, however, support a defense authorization that fails to significantly address ongoing and legacy contamination from PFAS chemicals.”

Earlier this summer, three of Dingell’s provisions to address PFAS contamination were included in the defense authorization bill for next fiscal year. The provisions would require the Federal government to designate PFAS as a hazardous substance for the purpose of clean up under the EPA’s Superfund Program, facilitate coordinated response between local communities and the military to clean up PFAS chemicals through cooperative agreements, and ban the future use of PFAS in Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) food packaging for servicemembers.

Dingell has long-urged the EPA to set a national MCL for all PFAS compounds so there is one national standard for all water systems to ensure safe drinking water. Currently, states may issue public health warnings when contaminant levels reach 70 ppt (parts per trillion), as set by the EPA, but there are no enforcement mechanisms. Dingell supports setting a maximum contaminant level for all PFAS chemicals to address the severe health effects that have been linked to even low levels of exposure, among many other necessary policies.

Dear Chairman Smith, Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Thornberry, and Ranking Member Reed:

As you work to finalize the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, it is critical we come together to include important cleanup provisions that will safeguard the public and our environment from the harms of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals. Meaningful PFAS provisions were adopted in both the House and Senate authorization bills that we should be able to find common ground on. We cannot, in good conscience, however, support a defense authorization that fails to significantly address ongoing and legacy contamination from PFAS chemicals.

We know PFAS chemicals pose grave dangers to human health and our environment. Across this nation, including military bases, federal facilities, and industrial sites, we are finding a growing number of sites with PFAS contamination in drinking water systems, ground water, and surface water. In March 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) provided a report to Congress that identified 401 active or closed military instillations with known or suspected releases of PFAS chemicals. Since then, the Environmental Working Group has also separately identified 297 military sites with known PFAS contamination.

The House voted favorably to amend the FY2020 NDAA to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under CERCLA—the Superfund law—and to regulate PFAS as discharges under the Clean Water Act. As you know, the DOD has repeatedly refused to clean up legacy PFAS contamination, citing the absence of a hazardous substance designation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Despite claims by then Administrator Scott Pruitt that the EPA would be taking steps to address PFAS contamination, including a CERCLA listing, the EPA has done nothing. It is also critically important we also include a provision to control discharges of PFAS through Clean Water Act permits to prevent those who are still discharging these chemicals into our nation’s waterways from doing so into the future.

Companies and regulators alike have understood the risks posed by these harmful, “forever chemicals” for decades but have failed to protect the American people. Our communities have waited long enough, especially communities near military installations whose drinking water has been poisoned from these pollutants. Under CERCLA and the Clean Water Act, we have long-tested and proven laws that effectively protect public health and our environment from harmful pollution that also holds polluters responsible. We believe this year’s defense authorization must include a CERCLA designation provision and ensure PFAS discharges into drinking water supplies are regulated under the Clean Water Act so the Department of Defense will remediate legacy PFAS contamination at military installations and communities like ours can jumpstart the clean-up process at the same time. 

It’s time for Congress to act. There is also precedent for Congress stepping in when regulators fail to do so. Congress has designated chemicals as hazardous in the past, and, despite what some in industry might claim, such a designation does not prohibit commercial use of these substances. In fact, there are hundreds of chemicals deemed “hazardous substances” that are still used in commerce. To claim that a CERCLA designation for some of the worse offending PFAS compounds, such as PFOA and PFOS, would threaten our national security, the use of life-saving medical devices, or other products vital to our economy is patently absurd and does nothing more than to stoke fear and further delay the necessary cleanup of contaminated communities.

In the FY2020 NDAA, we have the opportunity to take serious action and accelerate the clean-up process where PFAS contamination exists. While we remain open to good faith negotiations and finding common ground, this must be taken seriously. The health of all Americans, our servicemembers, and the environment, now and for future generations, is at stake.

Signees: Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-CA), Rep. Donald Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), Rep. André Carson (D-IN), Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA),  Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY), Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep Dan Kildee (D-MI), Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. David Price (D-NC), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA)

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