Gluesenkamp Perez, Curtis Introduce Legislation to Shield Southwest Washington Ratepayers from PFAS Cleanup Costs

Apr 16, 2024
Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez visits the Salmon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Last week, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03) and Rep. John Curtis (UT-03) introduced the bipartisan Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act to ensure that water utilities can continue to focus their efforts on maintaining water quality rather than defending themselves when PFAS polluters seek to dilute their liability.

“PFAS chemicals have harmful effects on our health and children’s development – and water utilities are on the front line of the treatment and disposal of these substances,” said Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure policies to hold PFAS polluters accountable aren’t having unintended consequences on water utilities and ratepayers, especially in small and rural communities.”

In 2022, the EPA formally announced plans to designate two of the most common PFAS – Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

If finalized, this designation could put drinking water utilities at risk of incurring cleanup liability when they take necessary steps to remove and dispose of PFAS deposited into water supplies by upstream polluting industries. In addition, wastewater and stormwater utilities could also be put at risk as they receive PFAS chemicals through the raw influent that arrives at the treatment plan or through municipal stormwater runoff.

While EPA has announced an “enforcement discretion” policy that intends to focus on polluters that are responsible for the contamination and have profited from PFAS, such a policy will be insufficient to ensure that drinking water and clean water ratepayers will be permanently protected from CERCLA legal defense costs and cleanup liability for PFAS.

“We support this legislation which will take a meaningful step in protecting water utilities, who are passive receivers of PFAS, from financial and legal liabilities associated with decades of use of these chemicals in manufacturing and consumer products,” said John Peterson, Executive Director of the Discovery Clean Water Alliance. “PFAS is becoming the environmental challenge of our time. Water utilities can and will play an important role in reducing its prevalence in our environment, but subjecting them to undue financial burden and liability will only hurt the 150,000 residents who rely on – and pay for – our agency’s sewer services.”

“The City of Vancouver provides clean drinking water and wastewater services to nearly 275,000 people in Clark County,” said Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle. “It’s critical that we continue to invest our resources in identifying the sources and treating for PFAS rather than defending potential legal action for a systematic problem we didn’t create or control.”

“At Thurston PUD, we thank Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez from Washington’s 3rd Congressional District for her leadership and support of water entities through her introduction of a House companion bill to the Senate-proposed Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act, said Julie Parker, Assistant General Manager of Thurston PUD. “This bill will shield the public utility ratepayers from liabilities that should be shouldered by the polluters as the law intended. Utility ratepayers are already footing the bill to pay to treat the contaminated water and dispose of the contaminates, they shouldn’t have to pay a third time for the problem.”

“As not-for-profit, community-owned utilities, Washington public utility districts strive to provide safe affordable service to our ratepayers,” said Liz Anderson, Executive Director of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association (WPUDA). We applaud Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez for her leadership on legislation that will help ensure polluters, not the public, pay for PFAS cleanup.”

“In the West, and particularly in Utah, we understand deeply the value of clean water to our communities, our economy, and our way of life,” said Rep. Curtis. “This bill prevents the burden of industrial irresponsibility to fall on the shoulders of Utah’s families and ratepayers. It’s about ensuring that those who profit from these chemicals bear the cost of their impact, not the Utahns who rely on the integrity of their water supply.”

Full text of the legislation is available here.

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