PA lawmakers keep up pressure for foam contamination cleanup funding
Congressmen aim to win tens of millions of dollars for contamination cleanup, as well as a nationwide health study that could include residents from affected communities in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Four congressmen from Pennsylvania have written a letter to the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services committees, hoping to guide across the finish line a legislative effort to compel the military to do more to address firefighting foam contamination.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, as well as U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown; Brendan Boyle, D-13, of Philadelphia; and Patrick Meehan, R-7, of Upper Darby, jointly issued the letter late last week. It was sent to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and U.S. Rep, Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairs of the respective chamber committees, as well as the committees’ Democratic ranking members.
“We write to ask you for your support of various provisions affecting communities in Pennsylvania that are dealing with contaminated drinking water as a result of the use of firefighting foam at military installations nearby,” the letter stated.
Toxic chemicals PFOS and PFOA — which were used for decades in the foams — have been found in the soil and drinking water supplies near the sites of the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base and Horsham Air Guard Station in Horsham, the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and nearby Warrington. The area has approximately 70,000 residents.
Last spring, the lawmakers, joined by colleagues from other states, implemented a strategy to compel the U.S. military to do more to address groundwater contamination caused by the use of firefighting foams at military bases, a growing problem across the country. Rather than create independent legislation on the issue, they successfully added amendments to annual, must-pass military spending bills, thus bypassing typical Washington, D.C., gridlock.
Their three major goals? To create a nationwide health study for residents affected by contamination, such as tens of thousands in Bucks and Montgomery counties; to provide health screenings to such residents to catch any potential ailments; and to add tens of millions of dollars to the military’s cleanup accounts as it addresses a steadily growing number of contamination sites across the country.
Working in the Senate, Casey added such language to that chamber’s National Defense Authorization Act over the summer. In the House, Fitzpatrick, Boyle and Meehan did the same for that chamber’s NDAA bill.
Now, the competing bills are headed for a congressional conference between the two chambers. That means members from both the House and the Senate must sit down and hash out the differences between the two chambers’ NDAA bills, and present a new, unified version for a vote to both chambers.
Both contain similar language urging a health study and health screenings. But according to the lawmakers’ letter, cleanup funding amounts differ as such:
- Navy: $41.6 million increase for environmental restoration in the Senate, $30 million increase for PFOS/PFOA remediation in the House
- Air Force: $20 million increase for environmental restoration in the Senate, $30 million increase in PFOS/PFOA remediation in the House.
- Air National Guard: $5 million increase for operations and maintenance in the Senate, no mention in House.
- Navy Reserve: $20 million increase for operations and maintenance in the Senate, no mention in the House.
In addition, the letter also asks the Armed Services committees to support a provision in the House bill that requires “a report on research and development progress as well as an assessment on how the establishment of a (PFOS or PFOA) nationwide regulation” would impact the military’s cleanup efforts and budget. The chemicals are currently unregulated.
“Water contamination as a result of the military’s decades-long use of (foam) is a nationwide problem that the Department of Defense must confront,” the letter concludes. “As representatives of some of the first communities dealing with this problem today, we ask for your support of our bipartisan legislation.”
Passage of the NDAA conference bill is expected by the end of the year.