HASC Chairman: Blame Republicans for PFAS impasse

Smith said the conference report reconciling the two chambers’ defense bills must be agreed to by all sides by mid-day Friday to avoid the clock running out on the conference committee.

He did not say whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi had signed off on the decision to end negotiations on the provisions, but said that “she was upset, as we all are. This is not the outcome that we wanted.”

Pelosi said last month she would not bring the defense bill to the floor without the PFAS provisions.

But Smith said that he is optimistic about his ability to get the votes necessary to pass the bill, even though 68 members have said they would vote against a bill without the PFAS provisions.

“I’ve got a week to go out and get the votes. I think when everyone sees everything that’s in this bill, they will see that this is the level best that Democrats could have done,” he said.

Smith said the bill still contains “a lot” of other PFAS provisions, despite jettisoning the drinking water and Superfund language. Both the House and Senate passed provisions to phase out the military’s use of the chemicals in firefighting foam. And the Senate’s bipartisan PFAS package contained other provisions, like those requiring public disclosure of emissions of the chemicals.

Superfund regulation is broadly seen as essential to getting the Defense Department to swiftly clean up drinking water supplies it has contaminated near military bases around the country. The designation would also require private companies to do cleanups. But Republicans raised concerns that it could create liabilities for parties that may have been unwitting participants in contamination, such as farmers and wastewater treatment plants.

Smith said Republicans drew a “red line” against any Superfund language that would have applied to private parties.

The final deal also does not include a provision requiring a federal drinking water limit for the chemicals, Smith said.

The Trump administration’s EPA has vowed to make a decision by the end of the year about whether the chemicals PFOA and PFOS should get a federal drinking water regulation, although the agency appears likely to miss that deadline. Even if EPA does decide to regulate the chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act, it will likely be years before any regulation is finalized, given the long time lines allowed under the law. Senate-passed language would have guaranteed a drinking water limit within two years.