U.S. House votes to crack down on toxic chemicals; Trump threatens veto

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Friday to pass a comprehensive legislative package that would crack down on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of chemicals known as PFAS that are said to cause serious health problems.

Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday substances, PFAS have been linked to cancer, decreased fertility, developmental delays and other conditions and have been found in high concentrations in sources of public drinking water and other sites around the country. 

The PFAS Action Act includes a series of provisions designed to mitigate their harm. It cleared the House with support from 223 Democrats and 24 Republicans. One hundred and fifty seven Republicans voted against it, as did one Democrat and Michigan independent Rep. Justin Amash. Twenty-four lawmakers did not vote.

Capitol
U.S. Capitol. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Florida lawmakers in the U.S. House were divided.

Democrats who voted yes: Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Val Demings, Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Donna Shalala.

Republicans who voted no: Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, John Rutherford, Michael Waltz, Ross Spano, Gregory Steube, Mario Diaz-Balart.

Republicans who voted with the Democrats: Bill Posey, Francis Rooney, Brian Mast.

Not voting: Republicans Daniel Webster, Vern Buchanan.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell — the bill’s lead sponsor — called the chemicals an “urgent public health and environmental threat.” 

Nearly 300 military sites across the county have PFAS contamination and as many as 110 million Americans are drinking PFAS-contaminated water, she said, citing Environmental Working Group data. 

Friday’s vote came after supporters of the legislation suffered a stinging setback last month, when key PFAS provisions were struck from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before it was signed into law.

Opposition to those provisions from Senate Republicans prompted House Democrats to call the PFAS bill to the floor this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday.

“Last year, our members worked relentlessly to pass bold legislation to tackle the PFAS crisis,” Pelosi said on the House floor. “Unfortunately, at the end of the year, the Senate GOP refused to join the House to secure full, robust protections against PFAS chemicals and key provisions were cut from the NDAA.”

The “Senate GOP obstruction,” she said, “is why we are here today.”

The NDAA does take some steps to address PFAS. It includes provisions that require the U.S. military to transition off of PFAS-laden fire-fighting foam by 2024, ban the foam in exercises and training and test PFAS levels in military firefighters’ blood.

But supporters said the PFAS Action Act passed Friday goes much further.

It would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the EPA’s Superfund program, which would accelerate cleanup of contaminated sites. That would be a “significant first step while we allow the EPA to study the remaining compounds — which needs to start now,” Dingell said in a press release.

The bill would also create a national drinking standard for certain PFAS chemicals, help people understand water testing results, prevent new PFAS chemicals from being approved and more.

Despite its bipartisan support in the House, the bill faces an uphill battle. 

First, it must pass the GOP-controlled Senate, where hundreds of House-passed bills are languishing on the desk of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg News that the legislation had “no prospects in the Senate.”

If it passes the Senate, then it would move to the White House, which has issued a veto threat.

Florida Phoenix editor-in-chief Diane Rado contributed to this report.