Dingell slams Trump EPA chief for PFAS standard inaction

Clark's Marsh in Oscoda which has PFAS | Michael Gerstein

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) assailed President Donald Trump’s U.S. EPA chief on Thursday over the agency’s failure to set a national drinking water standard for harmful contaminants known as PFAS. 

The Michigan lawmaker, who took office in 2015, said she’s been promised since she arrived in Congress that a national standard for chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, was coming “any second.” 

Rep. Debbie Dingell | Detroit Chamber photo

She asked EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a hearing Thursday, “When do you think that we are really going to get a final drinking water standard … to protect the American people in our environment?”

Last Friday, the agency proposed to regulate two PFAS chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA and announced that it would take public comment on those plans. 

Wheeler told Dingell that marked an important step toward getting final regulations, and noted that EPA has a PFAS health advisory for communities to follow. 

Dingell called the move last week “a very small step” and stressed that the EPA health advisory isn’t the same as a national standard. The advisory is “not stringent enough,” she added. 

Wheeler cautioned, “I don’t want the American public to be concerned that their drinking water’s not safe.” 

EPA Director Andrew Wheeler at Belle Isle announcement | Ken Coleman

But, Dingell said, some of them have reason to be worried. 

“We have a crisis in this country. Water is polluted, is poison, in many communities that don’t know it. We need a drinking water standard,” she said. 

Wheeler said he’d meet with Dingell personally to discuss the issue. “I understand your passion,” he told her. 

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) questioned Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s responsibility to mitigate PFAS contamination in Michigan.

Slotkin wanted Esper to commit to follow Michigan’s forthcoming statewide PFAS standard, something that is being debated by the Environmental Rules Review Committee Thursday afternoon in Lansing.

Slotkin talks prescription drug prices, PFAS at East Lansing event

“The EPA has not done its job in setting a standard for what’s safe and what’s not safe, so you can’t live up to [a] standard that doesn’t exist,” Slotkin said. “My question is this: based on DoD regulation, you all are required to live up to state environmental standards. The state of Michigan is currently reviewing setting up our own statewide PFAS standard. Once enacted, and officially promulgated, will you commit to living up to Michigan’s statewide standards?”

Esper said, “I think if that’s our regulation driven by law, we’d be required to.” He said he would get back to Slotkin with a formal answer.

On Thursday, several Michigan Democratic members of Congress announced $13.5 million for PFAS cleanup of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. It comes from $60 million that Congress had recently provided the DoD to spend to address PFAS contamination at decommissioned bases around the country.

In January, Kildee, Dingell, Slotkin, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit)  wrote to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett requesting that the Air Force prioritize Wurtsmith and key former military installations in Michigan.

Oscoda residents vent to Air Force brass about PFAS worries

“For years, I, along with Sens.Peters and Stabenow, have been advocating for the Department of Defense to allocate more money to clean up toxic PFAS chemicals at former Wurtsmith Air Force base,” said Kildee. “Oscoda residents and families have been waiting far too long for the Air Force to act more urgently. I am happy to see the Department of Defense finally provide funding to clean up PFAS at Wurtsmith, but still more funding is needed to protect Oscoda residents from PFAS leeching into the drinking water.”

In April 2019, Air Force Assistant Secretary John Henderson came to Oscoda from Washington, D.C., on an invitation from Peters and talked with residents about their concerns about PFAS.

Peters called the funding “an important step towards stopping the continued spread of PFAS contamination from the former base, and reducing PFAS exposure in the community. 

“When I brought Assistant Air Force Secretary Henderson to Oscoda last year, the message was clear: the Air Force must do more to cleanup PFAS contamination that has devastated the Oscoda community,” said Peters. “I joined my colleagues in pressing for more funding at Wurtsmith because Michiganders deserve answers and actions.”

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.