Home\Advocacy\Senate Committee Holds Hearing on PFAS Hazardous Designation; WateReuse Urges Liability Shield for Utilities

Senate Committee Holds Hearing on PFAS Hazardous Designation; WateReuse Urges Liability Shield for Utilities

Date: March 25, 2024

Last week, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a hearing to examine the implications of designating certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The Committee heard from witnesses representing clean water and drinking water utilities, solid waste management facilities, and environmental organizations, among others. At the start of the hearing, Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) entered into the record hundreds of letters from entities such as WateReuse urging the Committee to hold PFAS manufacturers accountable for cleanup costs, and to enact a CERCLA liability shield for passive receivers of PFAS.

In its letter to the EPW Committee ahead of the hearing, WateReuse noted that water recycling utilities provide essential public services and are not manufacturers or primary sources of PFAS; rather, utilities are passive recipients of trace levels of PFAS, in large part through the ordinary daily activities of the residential and commercial sectors. Our statement explains that, unless utilities are shielded from PFAS CERCLA liability, the designation of various PFAS as hazardous substances will unfairly place liability burdens on passive receivers of PFAS rather than on producers of the substances. In addition to delivering our own statement for the record, WateReuse joined a joint letter delivered by dozens of entities representing passive receivers of PFAS around the country.

Importantly, at one point during the hearing, Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) asked witness Robert Fox, representing the solid waste management community, to explain why simply allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to utilize its enforcement discretion to protect passive receivers from PFAS CERLCA liability will not suffice. Mr. Fox noted that EPA’s enforcement discretion will not prevent third parties from drawing utilities into litigation. He pointed to the specific example of EPA’s enforcement of CERCLA liability with respect to brownfield redevelopment in 2002. At that time, EPA similarly stated that it would use its enforcement discretion to shield brownfield redevelopers from CERLCA liability. EPA’s attempt at shielding prospective brownfield redevelopers from liability did not work, and as a result, Congress enacted a liability shield in statute. Ranking Member Capito stated during the hearing that her support for PFAS legislation is contingent on the inclusion of a similar liability shield for passive receivers of PFAS.

Remarks by Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) during the hearing clearly indicated that he has also heard from utilities and stakeholder groups about the unintended implications of a hazardous substance designation for certain PFAS. Carper outlined utilities’ concerns and stated his commitment to finding a solution that places responsibility with polluters rather than with “innocent recipients of PFAS.” WateReuse will continue to work with Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Capito, Senator Lummis and other members of Congress to ensure that polluters are held responsible for PFAS contamination and that water recycling utilities are shielded from PFAS liability under CERCLA.

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