| Bipartisan legislation to protect water utilities, ratepayers from PFAS cleanup costs introduced in U.S. House of Representatives
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Bipartisan legislation to protect water utilities, ratepayers from PFAS cleanup costs introduced in U.S. House of Representatives

The American Water Works Association (AWWA), as a member of the Water Coalition Against PFAS, supports the introduction of bipartisan legislation that would provide liability protections for water systems under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and help ensure that polluters, not the public, pay for PFAS cleanup. Protecting water utilities from liability under CERCLA has been a key objective advanced by AWWA for several years, including this year at the Association’s annual Fly-In.

Introduced by Reps. John Curtis (R-UT) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), The Water Systems PFAS Liability Act (H.R. 7944) is a companion bill to Senate legislation introduced by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), last year. The bill provides statutory protection for water utilities considering the upcoming designation of PFAS compounds perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) as hazardous substances by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under CERCLA. The agency is currently finalizing that rule.

The protections would only apply to systems that have followed all applicable laws at the time the material was handled and disposed.

A CERCLA designation for PFAS exposes drinking water and wastewater utilities to potential litigation from the manufacturers of PFAS. PFAS users and producers can leverage litigation to reduce their own clean-up costs and increase costs for water utilities – costs that utilities are then forced to pass along to ratepayers.

“Water utilities and their ratepayers should not be held responsible for sites contaminated with PFAS. Polluters who manufacture, use, and profit from these chemicals should be held liable for the contamination that they created,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance. “The commitment Representatives Curtis and Gluesenkamp Perez show in upholding CERCLA’s ‘polluter pays’ principle is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to working with Congress to pass this important legislation.”

Last month, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing titled “Examining PFAS as Hazardous Substances,” where witnesses documented the potential impact to water systems and their customers of a CERCLA designation due to the pervasiveness of PFAS in the environment.

The prevalence of PFAS means that drinking water and wastewater utilities, which passively receive these substances into their systems, would face CERCLA liability through their efforts to remove PFAS from water supplies and provide clean and safe water. The Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act will protect water systems and their customers from this unfortunate outcome of EPA’s proposed rule.

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Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most vital resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.