Federal Water Tap, September 9: House Members Request ‘Strong Package’ of PFAS Provision in Defense Bill

The Rundown

The Congressional PFAS Task Force and others ask House and Senate negotiators to maintain provisions to respond to PFAS contamination. The EPA seeks comments on a cap-and-trade system for meeting water pollution targets. An Army Corps official presses Congress to fund a Missouri River basin flood management study. A California water district proposes to raise the height of a dam. A USDA report looks at the value of the inland waterway transportation system to agriculture. The EPA’s internal watchdog will review the approval process for state water pollution permits following questions about a Minnesota mine. Congress is back in session, with hearings on PFAS and climate change. And lastly, the Army Corps updates its national levee database.

“We have to increase the volume of water that can be carried safely down the river.” — Brig. Gen. Peter Helmlinger, an Army Corps official, speaking at a Senate field hearing in North Dakota on Missouri River management. The hearing was in response to historic flooding along the river this spring. Helmlinger recommends that Congress fund a study to look at options to prepare for the next flood. Those options could include levees farther from the river or an additional channel, both of which would give more room to the river. “We need to do something different than simply rebuild the system as it is now,” he added.

By the Numbers

$171 million: Matching grants issued to the states from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Seeded by royalties from offshore oil and gas leases, the fund protects parks and recreation sites. (Interior Department)

$4 million: Money that the federal government will reimburse the Suffolk County Water Authority for response costs related to PFAS contamination at an air national guard facility. Groundwater was contaminated from the use of firefighting foams at Gabreski Airport, on New York’s Long Island. Costs for the water authority include connecting homeowners with contaminated wells to public water as well as installing filters and providing bottled water. The water authority is trying to recover costs in other ways. It is part of a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the firefighting foams. (Newsday)

In context: As PFAS Lawsuits Proliferate, Legal Tactics Emerge

News Briefs

PFAS Letter
One hundred sixty-two members of the House signed a letter asking congressional leadership to maintain “a strong package of PFAS-related provisions” in a Defense spending authorization bill. Differences between the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act will be negotiated this month, as representatives return from the August recess.

Those differences have caused a rift. The White House issued a veto threat in July against the stricter House bill, which would designate PFAS a hazardous substance under federal law and require the military to phase out the use of fluorine firefighting foams by 2025.

Senate leaders also criticized the House bill, with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) saying that “their proposal won’t become law.”

Both bills set a timetable for the EPA to establish a national drinking water standard for the chemicals PFOA and PFOS.

Cap-and-Trade for Water
The EPA is seeking public comment on ways to use a cap-and-trade system to meet water quality goals in basins that have a federally mandated pollution limit. Called TMDLs, those limits are in place for rivers and lakes nationwide, most notably in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Comments can be filed at www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0415. The EPA will also host a “listening session” on October 21 at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. That session will be streamed online as well.

California Dam Raising
A campaign to increase the height of Shasta Dam, the fourth tallest in California, gains more attention, but another, more modest dam-raising proposal is knocking around California.

The South Sutter Water District filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to boost the height of a dam on the Bear River, in northern California, by 5 feet. A draft environmental review is expected by October 2020.

Studies and Reports

Inland Waterways
The U.S. Department of Agriculture hired Informa Agribusiness Consulting to produce a report on the importance of the nation’s inland waterways to agriculture. The inland waterway system links rivers, lakes, and canals through a series of locks and dams.

The report found that the system’s infrastructure, though it moved barges carrying $220 billion in goods in 2017, is “aging and needs major rehabilitation and construction” to avoid shipping disruptions and have room for growth.

Levee Database
The Army Corps of Engineers recently updated its national levee database. Like a similar service for dams, the database contains information on inspections, assessments, and risk classification for about 2,000 levee systems overseen by the Corps. Future versions of the database will incorporate condition and risk assessments other federal, state, tribal, and private levee systems.

On the Radar

Congressional Hearings
On September 10, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform continues its interrogation of PFAS contamination with a hearing on corporate accountability.

On September 11, the House Financial Services Committee discusses the macroeconomic consequences of climate change.

Environmental Financial Advisory Board Meeting
The group that counsels the EPA on questions of “how to pay for it?” will meet in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 16 to 18. On the agenda is stormwater financing. Registration is free and open to the public, but sign up before September 30.

NPDES Investigation
The EPA Office of the Inspector General will review the agency’s internal process for approving state-issued water pollution permits and ensuring that the permits adhere to the Clean Water Act.

The impetus for the review is an allegation that the EPA regional office in Chicago suppressed staff objections to the PolyMet copper-nickel mine in Minnesota, which state regulators then approved. A retired EPA attorney filed the complaint with the inspector general.

In context: Newly Released Documents Detail EPA’s Concerns over PolyMet

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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