A sweeping defense bill would mandate phasing out by 2024 firefighting foam that contains chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems, and improve planning to protect military bases from natural disasters.
Lawmakers released the latest bill to authorize over $720 billion for the Defense Department’s operations late Dec. 9. House lawmakers could vote on the measure as soon as Dec. 11, while the Senate’s timing is still unclear.
The National Defense Authorization Act’s conference report, the result of months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, would prohibit the use of firefighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) after October 1, 2024, with an exemption for uses on military ships.
House Democrats and Senate Republicans were unable to agree on two substantial provisions—to set a drinking water standard for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and to list any number of thousands of PFAS under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund law—in order to move the defense bill to the finish line.
“We did not prevail on PFAS,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Dec. 10, adding, “We’re sorry we didn’t prevail on that.”
Hoyer said late Dec. 9 that he would bring a stand-alone bill (H.R. 535) with those provisions to the floor next month.
Use of the foam has been blamed for PFAS-laced drinking water around the country, and a Pentagon task force said it expects the number of polluted installations to rise beyond the 401 already identified.
“The provisions for nationwide water testing and phasing out PFAS in military firefighting foam are a major milestone in the fight against PFAS,” Tom Bruton, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute, said in a statement. “Just a few years ago achieving these critical protections, especially the foam phaseout, seemed impossible.”
The bill also immediately bans the uncontrolled release of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in training exercises. The foam would be destroyed by incineration.
The legislation encourages the Defense Department to finalize cooperative agreements with states on the contamination of groundwater around military installations, including sharing monitoring data; adds PFAS to the list of chemicals that industry must disclose when released into the environment; and require blood testing for military firefighters.
The bill makes it easier for the National Guard to access Defense Environmental Remediation Program funds to address the exposure of PFOA and PFOS, two of the best-studied chemicals.
And the Pentagon would be barred from giving service members ready-to-eat meals containing PFAS chemicals under the proposed law.
The House-Senate agreement, which must still be passed by both chambers, also retained some significant climate change provisions. Overall, they aim to ensure the Pentagon is better prepared for climate-related impacts, including rising sea levels and severe storms.
Conferees are also directing the Pentagon to update what are known as “unified” building criteria, a set of building standards, to “promote military installation resilience, energy resilience, energy and climate resiliency, and cyber resilience.” Cyber resilience refers to Pentagon efforts to ward of a cyberattack.
The Pentagon would also be required to provide more precise information on how much its operations are at risk from climate impacts.
The conference report directs the Defense Department to provide a “dedicated budget line item for adaptation to, and mitigation of, effects of extreme weather on military networks, systems, installations, facilities, and other” defense assets.
The defense bill would also create a climate security advisory council within the Office of the Director of Intelligence to “ensure that the intelligence community is adequately prioritizing climate change in carrying out” defense and security-related activities.