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N.H. Delegation Says Defense Bill Marks PFAS Progress Despite Losing Key Provisions

Pease AFB

A major defense spending package will not include two key regulations for toxic PFAS chemicals – which have polluted water across New Hampshire.

The National Defense Authorization Act, set for final votes this week, does carry other provisions that New Hampshire's congressional delegation supported, including a plan to give 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees.

The spending plan also says the military must phase out use of PFAS-based firefighting foam, which has contaminated drinking water at hundreds of sites including the former Pease Air Force Base.

And it includes an additional $10 million for national PFAS health research, which is among the provisions in the bill that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen spearheaded. She sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and helped write the Senate's version of the bill. 

"This bill ensures that the health impact study at Pease will continue to move forward without delay and addresses occupational exposure, which impacts our firefighters and military members at a higher rate," Shaheen says in a statement.

The spending package will not force federal drinking water standards for PFAS, or list the chemicals as hazardous substances at Superfund sites. Those provisions were cut along party lines.

“I guess in some sense you can look at the victory of getting a few [PFAS] provisions through in the final version,” says Rep. Chris Pappas in an interview. "I think that there are those in industry that will continue to resist action here, but we've got to be looking out for people back home."

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Pappas had originally joined a large group of House members in saying he wouldn't vote for the defense bill without those PFAS items, but now he says it has enough positives that he'll support it.

And he says he’s glad the House of Representatives will aim to vote in January on a separate package of PFAS legislation, which covers most of the same issues -- though he recognizes it will likely face opposition.

"There is more work that needs to be done to protect public health, to look at the issue of cleanup, and to make sure that we're mitigating contamination that exists out there,” Pappas says.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has its own PFAS Action Plan, which it says could soon lead to drinking water limits and other regulations for the chemicals.

“When that plan begins to be implemented, then we can feel good about the direction of things,” Pappas says.

The defense spending bill also includes funding and support for military operations in New Hampshire, along with a pay raise and new housing protections for the military.

And it includes a "provision to streamline the Pentagon’s tracking of properties," backed by Rep. Annie Kuster, which her office says in a statement "will help save taxpayer dollars and cut wasteful spending." 

It also carries a plan spearheaded by Sen. Shaheen and co-sponsored by Sen. Maggie Hassan to speed up testing for PFAS contamination nationwide and provide more resources for affected states.

This post was updated Wednesday to include more details of the New Hampshire Congressional delegation's contributions to the bill.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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