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North Little Rock Wastewater

U.S. House, Senate Introduce Legislation to Protect Water and Wastewater Utilities and Ratepayers

With new concerns about per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), water and wastewater utilities are preparing for changes in water treatment requirements. Water treatment is not the only way the water sector will be affected, however.

The Environmental Protection Agency released the first regulations on PFAS last week, with more to come soon. According to their PFAS Strategic Roadmap, they are also creating remediation requirements for polluted areas and looking into classifying PFAS as hazardous materials under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Classifying PFAS as hazardous materials would open water and wastewater utilities to the risk of being sued for pollution remediation costs despite neither producing nor consuming PFAS. Remediation costs offloaded from industrial polluters onto public utilities would fall to ratepayers, and thus the financial burden of PFAS cleanup could fall to the public. As Michael Witt, General Counsel of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark, New Jersey, testified to the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee in March, “Communities should not pay for the privilege of being poisoned.”

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Water Coalition Against PFAS, and many other organizations have been advocating for legislation to ensure a “polluter pays” model. Their efforts are paying off; Reps. John Curtis (R-UT) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA) introduced the bipartisan bill H.R.7944, which would provide water and wastewater utilities statutory protection from liability for PFAS pollution that was not caused by the utility. H.R.7944 is the companion legislation to the Senate bill S.1430, which was introduced by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) last year.

Bills around PFAS are not the only proposed legislation to assist water and wastewater utility ratepayers. H.R.8032, sponsored by Reps. Eric Sorensen (D-IL) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), and S.3830, introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), would make the Department of Health and Human Services’ Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) permanent. LIHWAP was established during the COVID-19 pandemic to help low-income families struggling to pay their water bills. Since then, it has helped more than 1.6 million households across the country.

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