Federal Water Tap, April 22: EPA Designates Two PFAS as Hazardous Substances

The Rundown

  • EPA designation for PFOA and PFOS is meant to facilitate hazardous site cleanup.
  • Water bills in Congress focus on shielding water utilities from PFAS cleanup costs, rural household water filters, and low-income water bill assistance.
  • Biden administration releases a global health security strategy.
  • CDC hosts its flagship disease detection conference this week with sessions on Legionella and other water-related problems.
  • GSA wants to know how to think about reducing PFAS consumption through government procurement policy.
  • NOAA places odds on La Niña conditions developing later this year.
  • SEC, due to a lawsuit, will delay its rule on climate-related financial risk disclosures for large companies.

And lastly, the FBI director addresses cybersecurity threats to critical infrastructure.

“In that case, we found persistent PRC access in our critical telecommunications, energy, water, and other infrastructure sectors. They were hiding inside our networks, using tactics known as ‘living-off-the-land’—essentially, exploiting built-in tools that already exist on victim networks to get their sinister job done, tools that network defenders expect to see in use and so don’t raise suspicions—while they also operated botnets to further conceal their malicious activity and the fact that it was coming from China. All this, with the goal of giving the Chinese government the ability to wait for just the right moment to deal a devastating blow.” – Christopher Wray, FBI director, describing the tactics of Chinese-sponsored hackers known as Volt Typhoon. Wray spoke on April 18 at the Vanderbilt Summit on Modern Conflict and Emerging Threats.

By the Numbers

60 Percent: Chance that La Niña conditions will develop later this summer, according to NOAA. La Niña favors warmer and drier winters in the southern half of the U.S.

News Briefs

PFAS and Superfund
The U.S. Environmental Protection finalized another major ruling around toxic “forever chemicals,” one that enables the agency to facilitate the cleanup of contaminated sites.

The agency designated PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA, the federal law that governs Superfund sites.

The designation means the agency can force polluters – if they can be identified – to pay for remediation.

Though the EPA has a policy of “enforcement discretion” that would focus on chemical manufacturers, water utilities worry that they could be held financially responsible for cleanup.

Because they remove the chemicals from water during the treatment process, utilities become part of the chain of ownership, in a legal sense. Water utilities want Congress to exempt them from liability. See below for an attempt.

Water Bills in Congress
Congressional reps returned to D.C. with spring in their step and a bevy of water-related bills. Among them:

  • The Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act would shield water and wastewater utilities from the costs of cleaning up PFAS contamination.
  • The Healthy H2O Act would provide grants to low-income rural households and childcare facilities that use well water to purchase filters to remove contaminants. The bill authorizes $10 million a year for five years.
  • The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program Establishment Act would permanently establish a federal program to help with the cost of water bills. The bill would authorize $1.1 billion for the Department of Health and Human to run the program, which was created during the pandemic as a limited-time, emergency response. The pandemic-era version of the program expired last year, though utilities have received extensions to spend down the money.
  • The DROUGHT Act of 2024 would increase the cap on federal assistance for water infrastructure projects in severe drought areas. The assistance in question is WIFIA loans, and the cap would rise from 80 percent of project costs to 90 percent.
  • Companion bills in the House and Senate aim to speed up the Army Corps of Engineers’ mitigation work for damage to wetlands and ecosystems.
  • The Future of Water Act would prohibit the trading of futures contracts for water rights.

Studies and Reports

Global Health Security
The Biden administration released a global health security strategy that, it hopes, will guide the federal government’s attempts abroad over the next five years to reduce disease and the risk of another pandemic.

For water, the strategy emphasizes collaborating across agencies and expanding access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. That includes climate-related risks such as spread of disease after extreme weather disasters.

In context: Cholera Cases Spike Amid Extreme Weather, Conflict

PFAS at Hawaiian Military Base
The Government Accountability Office released a report on the Defense Department’s response to a spill of firefighting foam in November 2022 that contained PFAS and entered groundwater.

The spill occurred at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, a base on O’ahu where there was also a jet fuel spill from a storage facility.

On the Radar

SEC Delays Climate-Risk Disclosure
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, due to a legal challenge, will delay indefinitely its rule requiring large companies to disclose to investors risks related to water and climate.

Two hydraulic fracturing companies – Liberty Energy and Nomad Proppant Services – filed the lawsuit.

Disease Detection Conference
The CDC hosts its annual epidemiology conference April 23 to 26, and it’s free and open to the public.

The event takes place in Atlanta, but sessions will be livestreamed, too. Registration is required.

The agenda lists several water-related presentations, such as Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and post-flooding needs assessment.

Buy Nothing – Containing PFAS
The federal agency in charge of the government’s supply shopping is considering how to reduce PFAS consumption through its procurement policies. These determine which products agencies can purchase.

The Government Services Agency is seeking public comment on how it might go about achieving this. What products should be excluded? How can it best determine PFAS-free items? What are unintended consequences?

If you have any ideas, respond by June 17. Submit comments via www.regulations.gov using docket ‘GSA PFAS Inquiry.’

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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