PFAS PROBLEMS — They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down and are difficult to remove from the environment. But the name could just as easily be a reference to the high cost and political and legal problems associated with remediation efforts.
For example, the Biden administration’s plan to elevate the cleanup of a pair of highly toxic PFAS chemicals is translating into a political headache for Democrats on Capitol Hill, Annie Snider reports.
The administration’s attempt to include the chemicals under the Superfund law could give contaminated communities a legitimate pathway to prod polluters such as chemical manufacturers and the Defense Department to clean up their mess. But in so doing, it could rope in wastewater utilities, farmers, airports and oil refineries that may have unwittingly used the chemicals or contributed to their spreading.
And if these smaller players are forced to share the cost burden, that could drive up water and gas prices.
Senate Republicans are pushing for legislation that would exempt those smaller entities from Superfund liability, and that has left Democrats with the difficult choice of either siding with them or standing with environmental groups that argue shielding anyone sets a dangerous precedent for the EPA’s ability to hold polluters responsible.
“Without the implementation of passive receiver liability protections, we risk transitioning from a ‘polluter pays’ model to an inequitable ‘consumer pays’ model, where ratepayers are forced to cover the bill for someone else’s mistakes,” Peter Hoffman, a spokesperson for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), said in a statement.
Creating such an exemption would be a first: Congress hasn’t shielded a single industry from the Superfund law in the nearly 43 years it has been on the books. Exempting certain industries’ PFAS pollution would be a tough way to start. The chemicals — used in products including textiles, food packaging, cosmetics and firefighting foam — are pervasive in the environment, present in most human bodies and linked to adverse health impacts including cancer.
EPA released data last week showing that about 8 percent of drinking water systems in the U.S. detected unsafe levels of PFAS, a number that’s almost certain to climb as more water systems report their test results. A federal study released last month found that almost half of U.S. tap water from both public systems and private wells is contaminated with at least one type of PFAS.
The fight over liability has opened up the floodgates. Any decision to exempt certain industries raises the question of which industries exactly should be shielded from liability and why, and whether water utilities and other entities must bear the burden to prove that they acted responsibly to be exempt.
“This isn’t even a conversation that Democrats should be having, because where does it end? There’s no natural end to this question,” said Scott Faber, who leads government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “Which chemicals should be exempt? Who’s a passive receiver? Who’s an innocent party?”
(EV)ERGREEN STATE BOOM — Moses Lake, Wash., a rural, red community traditionally prized for its potato and apple production, has become a perhaps surprising hotbed of activity in the push to expand U.S. production of materials for electric vehicle batteries.
The town is now home to a pair of factories, both of which got $100 million federal grants, that make black powders — known as anode active materials — that improve the performance of EVs. The development, which is attracting interest from luxury automakers in Germany, is a reflection of a transformation playing out across the country, infusing towns like Moses Lake with investments and new jobs, David Ferris reports for POLITICO’s E&E News.
Part of what makes the region so attractive for this sort of industry is the same Columbia River that turned it into an agricultural powerhouse. The river supports a large supply of hydropower, which lures companies looking for low-emissions electricity to ensure their exported products meet Europe’s carbon stamp of approval. Under standards passed in June, Europe requires EV batteries — including exported ones from the U.S. — to verify their carbon footprint.
— Just 17 percent “strongly agree” there will be a recession in the next six months, down from 35 percent last year.
— Half cited climate change as a risk to their business. Only 19 percent see it as a “serious threat” — down slightly from 2022. Two-thirds said they are actively monitoring proposed climate disclosure rules.
— Cyber attacks are the No. 1 risk.
— Policy engagement across issues is down this year.
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