U.S. Senate Republicans block advance of bipartisan infrastructure plan, but talks continue
By Laura Olson
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats’ attempt to start debate on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan was blocked by Republicans on a party-line vote Wednesday, as lawmakers hustle to wrap up negotiations over drafting that legislation.
In the 49-51 test vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), switched his vote to “no,” a procedural move that allows him to bring the motion again later.
Earlier on Wednesday, Schumer had described the Senate action as intended to move the legislative process forward on approving a sweeping package of funding for road and bridge projects.
“This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out. It is not an attempt to jam anyone,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, adding that “in order to finish the bill, first we need to start.”
But Republicans balked at advancing to debate over the bill until the bipartisan group finishes drafting plans for funding and other sticking points, such as the amount of money for transit projects. Sixty votes were needed.
“These discussions have yet to conclude. There’s no outcome yet,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), said Wednesday. “No bipartisan agreement, no text, nothing for the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate, and certainly nothing on which to vote.”
The failed vote comes a month after the White House and 10 U.S. senators, led by Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, and Ohio’s Rob Portman, a Republican, announced they had struck a deal on the outlines of a proposal to spend $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion from new spending.
The key senators involved in the infrastructure talks besides Sinema and Portman have included Republicans Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine; and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Jon Tester of Montana; and Mark Warner of Virginia.
That agreement was briefly jostled by President Joe Biden’s comments that he would only sign the bill paying for traditional infrastructure projects if Congress also sends him a second bill he’s sought to provide more money for what he calls “human infrastructure,” such as child care and education.
Biden later revised his comments, reasserting his support for the infrastructure deal.
Lawmakers involved in the infrastructure talks continued their closed-door meetings on Wednesday. If that group is able to finish its work, Senate Democrats could hold another vote as soon as next week to advance to debate over the infrastructure measure.
“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” the senators said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “We will continue working hard to ensure we get this critical legislation right—and are optimistic that we will finalize, and be prepared to advance, this historic bipartisan proposal to strengthen America’s infrastructure and create good-paying jobs in the coming days. We appreciate our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the administration, working with us to get this done for the American people.”
Schumer reiterated on Wednesday that he intends for the Senate to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a second measure containing the president’s other infrastructure priorities, before lawmakers leave for the August recess.
The second measure would be passed through the budget reconciliation process, allowing Democrats to approve it without support from Republicans in the narrowly divided chamber.
U.S. House passes PFAS bill regulating ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water
By Ariana Figueroa
WASHINGTON—The U.S. House Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation that would regulate toxic chemicals found in drinking water, as well as designate two types of those toxic chemicals as hazardous substances that would spark federal cleanup standards.
The bill, H.R. 2467, also known as the PFAS Action Act of 2021, passed 241-183, with 23 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for it.
The legislation would direct EPA to start the regulatory process for regulating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water and making the decision on whether to set drinking water standards for certain types of PFAS or to regulate the entire class, which ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 substances.
“PFAS chemicals are an urgent threat to public health,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, (D-Mich.), said on the House floor. “Now almost every American has PFAS coursing through their blood after generations of using the chemicals.”
Chemical companies such as DuPont and Dow Chemical along with other businesses used the so-called forever chemicals to make nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, Scotchgard and other consumer products.
Dingell, along with Rep. Fred Upton, (R-Mich.), has worked to garner bipartisan support for the bill. Similar PFAS legislation passed the House last year by a 247-159 vote, with 24 Republicans joining Democrats.
That bill then died in a Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), has not publicly stated whether he will bring the bill passed by the House on Wednesday to the Senate floor for a vote and there is currently no Senate version of it.
The Biden administration did issue a statement of administration policy in support of passage of the House measure.
“Addressing these ‘forever chemicals’ remains one of the most complex environmental challenges of our day due to the number of chemicals, the impacts on human health, and the widespread use of PFAS and their ubiquity in the environment,” the statement said.
“The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure that these actions are taken in a thoughtful, transparent, and timely manner and are supported by the best science to restore confidence in our efforts to protect the health of the American people.”
Studies have linked PFAS contamination to various health problems such as high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and testicular and kidney cancer.
Upton said that while the bill was not perfect, it was a start to regulating the toxic chemicals out of drinking water.
“It needs to see a number of constructive changes before it reaches the president’s desk,” he said.
The Michigan lawmakers have pushed for two of the most studied PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, to be listed as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or the Superfund law, so that federal cleanup standards can be applied to military installations that have PFAS contamination.
“The Pentagon’s not going to prioritize cleanup of these military sites until these chemicals are listed as the hazardous substances that they are,” Dingell said.
In Michigan alone, there are at least 10 military bases with PFAS contamination, but the Department of Defense has been hesitant to initiate cleanup as it does not have to follow state law. However, with the Superfund designation, the Department of Defense would be required to start cleaning up those sites.
Local leaders and community activists have expressed their frustration with DOD stalling cleanup sites during several congressional hearings. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy work around agriculture, pollutants, and corporate accountability, has found PFAS contamination in more than 2,800 communities, including 2,411 drinking water systems and 328 military installations across the country.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, (D-Mich.), said on the House floor Wednesday that Michiganders “are concerned about increasing levels of PFAS and other toxic chemicals that we’re continuing to find in our drinking water.”
House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), said that every House lawmaker should be concerned about PFAS contamination.
“It affects my district and every single congressional district in our country is affected by PFAS,” he said on the House floor. “The bill ensures that EPA finally takes measures to prevent future releases of PFAS into our environment and clean them up where such contamination has occurred.”
Republicans who voted against the bill argued that Congress should not force EPA to craft regulations, and lawmakers should let the agency develop standards on its own. They also said that the bill would burden water utility systems and could leave those businesses open for possible liability.
States Newsroom has reported that local water utilities have stepped up their lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital to push for exemptions from Superfund designation, citing fears of liability over PFAS contamination in drinking water.
Rep. Tim Walberg, (R-Mich.) also argued that water utilities would be held liable for Superfund cleanup and that there are several provisions in the bill that EPA is currently in the process of completing on its own.
“Make no mistake, I believe this is a serious problem,” he said on the House floor. “But the bill before us today, although severely well intended, goes too far. It represents the largest expansion of regulatory authority at the EPA or perhaps any federal agency in decades.”
Rep. John Joyce, (R-Penn.), argued that using a hazardous designation for the chemicals “has the potential to slow down the cleanup process of PFAS and divert resources from current high priority public health issues.”
Joyce said that Congress should not interfere and should “let government agencies do their work.”