A member of Congress says he plans to introduce a bill during the second week of April that will direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish guidelines and standards for eight priority industry categories for all measurable classes of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) within three years.

Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) told The Driller he plans to introduce the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act within “the next few days.” In addition, Pappas said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is working on a Senate version of the bill, and the legislators plan to introduce their bills simultaneously. 

Pappas said the bills are needed because while the EPA has begun developing some discharge limits for certain key industries, such as plastics, the agency “has not been more aggressive” at “setting stronger deadlines for other industrial categories under the Clean Water Act.” 

The need to do so “is critical if we want to comprehensively get upstream of this (PFAS) problem,” said Pappas, who added he has been “frustrated” over the EPA's lack of aggression on that aspect of the PFAS situation.

PFAS are widely used, long-lasting chemicals, the components of which break down very slowly and are found in the blood of people and animals worldwide. On February  1, 2024, the EPA announced it is proposing two rules that target PFAS pollution across the U.S., with one rule modifying the definition of hazardous waste as it applies to cleanups at permitted hazardous waste facilities. This modification would ensure that EPA’s regulations reflect the authority of the EPA and of authorized states to require the cleanup of the full range of substances are intended under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), including emerging chemicals of concern, such as PFAS, that may present substantial hazards, at permitted facilities.

The second rule would amend EPA regulations authorized by RCRA to add multiple PFAS compounds as hazardous constituents. According to the EPA, these PFAS would be added to the list of substances identified for consideration in facility assessments and, where necessary, further investigation and cleanup through the corrective action process at hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

Those proposed rules have facilitated strong concerns by municipalities and water utilities that they would be solely responsible for the costs of conducting PFAS cleanup from water systems, which would be passed on to consumers. 

While in many cases a Republican-led Congress would find it problematic to schedule a hearing or vote on a bill introduced by a Democrat, Pappas said there is “consensus in Congress” that “publicly owned treatment works didn't create the PFAS crisis.” Therefore, water utilities and their ratepayers should not “bear an undue financial burden or increase” because of PFAS contamination.

“We've got a bipartisan task force that has dozens of Republicans and Democrats working together on issues big and small that are related to PFAS,” Pappas said. “I think as members gain understanding of this issue, I think it opens some doors for us to move this legislation further,” he said.