House passes bill that could put 3M, other chemicals companies ‘on the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup fees’
The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Friday voted 247-159 in favor of a bill that aims to crack down on “forever chemicals” that have been linked to a range of health problems.
The PFAS Action Act, which targets per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, could exact a toll on chemical giants like 3M
, but it’s not likely to become law in its current form, given opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House’s promise that President Donald Trump would veto the bill.
Even so, Democrats and Republicans might reach compromises on this environmental issue, said analysts at Height Capital Markets in a note on Thursday. “As the 2020 election campaign season heats up, we expect Senate Republicans will come under increased pressure to pass PFAS legislation, particularly given widespread contamination in swing states like Michigan, North Carolina and Florida,” the analysts added.
The House bill would require that certain PFAS compounds are listed as hazardous substances within a year, and it would set a maximum contaminant level for those compounds. It was rolled out last year by three representatives from Michigan — Democrats Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee and Republican Fred Upton.
If a “hazardous substances” designation becomes a reality, companies like 3M, DuPont
“could be on the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup fees,” analysts at Beacon Policy Advisors said in a note on Thursday. In a similar vein, Height’s analysts said the PFAS Action Act “would increase liabilities for PFAS manufacturers like 3M and Chemours, while benefiting water remediation companies like Evoqua
Beacon’s team also said the bill “will generate headlines, but little substantive action until at least late 2020. Expect more action this year, however, from state officials, who have begun to step up in the face of federal inaction.”
“Let’s be very clear, PFAS is an urgent public health and environmental threat,” Dingell said in a statement Friday after her bill won the House’s approval. “We all must work together to protect human health and our environment. Further inaction only means more people continue to be poisoned and contamination spreads further.”
Earlier in the week, she said PFAS compounds were “forever chemicals” that “persist everywhere and are linked to cancer, liver disease, thyroid dysfunction and decreased fertility.” The substances have been used in stain-repellent and nonstick products, paints, coatings and many other items.
The White House, for its part, said Tuesday that it’s “aware of the public concern regarding PFAS and is committed to responding to this important public health issue,” but the House bill “risks undermining public confidence in the EPA’s decisions, and also risks the imposition of unnecessary costs on states, public water systems and others responsible for complying with its prescriptive mandates.”
3M, the American Chemistry Council and the Sierra Club are among the 29 organizations that have reported lobbying on the PFAS Action Act, according to an analysis of disclosures by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade group that counts 3M, DuPont and Chemours among its members, said in a statement Friday that it’s “committed to finding ways to address potential concerns with PFAS chemistries,” but it opposes the House bill because it “takes scientific questions out of the hands” of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We believe EPA’s career scientists have the expertise needed to examine PFAS and that EPA should retain its traditional authority to study potentially hazardous substances,” the trade association said.
3M issued a statement late Friday, saying it supported “appropriate science-based federal regulation of PFAS and the U.S. EPA’s consideration of an enforceable, science-based national drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS.”