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EPA Drinking Water Rules Are a Costly Overreach

Stringent standards regressively burden citizens for chemical clean-up.

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Articles, Opinion, Politics

The Biden administration has launched an aggressive regulatory mission to rescue Americans from toxic Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Also known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and accumulate in the human body, PFAS are certainly toxic and have been discharged into American water supplies since the 1940s. The new rules consist of drinking water restrictions focused on six PFAS, though the EPA currently identifies 12,034. But behind the showboating of protecting public health are some disturbing oversights.

Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water

Health risks from PFAS in drinking water include (thus far): damage to the reproductive system, including decreased fertility and high blood pressure in pregnant women; developmental effects in children including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, and behavioral changes; elevated risks of certain cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular; compromised immune systems, including reduced vaccine response; increased cholesterol levels and obesity; and interference with the body’s natural hormones. No, this is not an upcoming John Carpenter horror flick – it’s the world we live in and the water Americans drink daily.

Biden’s rules propose to monitor and regulate public drinking water supplies for PFAS at four parts per trillion. There are glaring problems with this regulatory “cure” for the ills that US regulatory agencies including the EPA, FDA, CDC, and USDA all failed to prevent.

Stopping the Spigot or Sopping the Slop

Anthropogenic chemical pollution includes three basic stages: generation, recycling, and disposal. PFAS are not recyclable, leaving generation and disposal. EPA claims in its 2021 “PFAS Strategic Roadmap” that “The roadmap sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions and commits to bolder new policies to safeguard public health, protect the environment, and hold polluters accountable.” However, its November 2022 Report lists very little bold action in the meager two paragraphs under the heading “Holding Polluters Accountable”:

“In January 2022, EPA issued information requests letters to three major PFAS manufacturers: The Chemours Company; Corteva, Inc.; and DuPont de Nemours, Inc. The letters require these companies to provide information on their current and past PFAS production and management and disposal practices at 24 facilities….

“In November 2022, EPA issued an administrative order on consent to 3M that requires 3M to offer to sample and provide treatment for PFAS contamination in drinking water near 3M’s facility in Cordova, Illinois. EPA is committed to continuing to investigate releases of PFAS and to require appropriate follow-up action where needed.”

Drinking Water Equity?

One might expect that such horrible health risks would mean urgently ceasing the generation of these child-maiming chemicals by more than merely one source, but a lethargic bureaucratic delay promises to amplify the much more costly (taxpayer-funded) clean-up effort instead. Companies can offset greenhouse gas “pollution” by purchasing carbon credits, but no credits are on offer for the cessation of PFAS emissions. Biden has allocated resources to replace lead pipes in a politically catchy “Get the Lead Out” campaign: drinking water clean-up appears comparatively leaden.

New banner Perpective 2A recurrent theme of the social justice crowd is the conflicting prioritization of intersectional policies. PFAS harm humans without regard to race, yet the Biden racism machine is amplified full force in the nebulous cause of “environmental justice.” Biden’s Executive Order 14096 proclaims:

“Communities with environmental justice concerns face entrenched disparities that are often the legacy of racial discrimination and segregation, redlining, exclusionary zoning, and other discriminatory land use decisions or patterns. These decisions and patterns may include the placement of polluting industries, hazardous waste sites, and landfills in locations that cause cumulative impacts to the public health of communities and the routing of highways and other transportation corridors in ways that divide neighborhoods. These remnants of discrimination persist today.”

The most influential “decision or pattern” impacting PFAS generation and pollution is urban: Companies tend to locate in commercial areas where infrastructure, zoning, and workers are amenable to their operations. People of color are more likely to reside (and work) there, but white people are also impacted. Targeting urban polluters makes sense, but skin color is irrelevant despite the racial politicization of Biden’s directive. Maybe shut down some PFAS emitters rather than overgeneralize the past sins of the white man? Women are more vulnerable to toxins than men – how will that translate into PFAS policy? Comingling social justice jargon with environmental policy detracts from a focus on “real science” in favor of partisan grandstanding.

A similar tack was employed when the Biden-Harris team tackled lead in drinking water:

“Signed in 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided a historic $50 billion investment in water and wastewater infrastructure, dedicating more than $15 billion to replacing lead service lines. EPA is committed to ensuring every community, particularly underserved and disadvantaged communities, can access their fair share of this unprecedented investment through a robust portfolio of Water Technical Assistance (WaterTA) programs….”

“Every community” would be actual equality. But “particularly underserved and disadvantaged communities” means prioritizing some over others in the name of racial equity. Equality and equity are routinely used in tandem by the Biden-Harris administration, but they are mutually exclusive. A more “equitable” scientific standard would prioritize the most lead- or PFAS-polluted drinking water rather than gratuitously fuel racial divisions. The drinking water standards demand equal levels of compliance (at four parts per trillion), but do not prioritize the most polluted areas first, fail to provide sufficient funds to accomplish the task, and are not effective until 2026 and beyond.

Forever Regressive?

Public water utilities are not supplied with adequate resources to implement clean-up of ongoing corporate discharges of forever chemicals, so water rates for consumers will increase based on consumption. This is patently regressive: Poor and “marginalized” communities will pay a higher percentage of their income than wealthier ratepayers for clean water.

On April 5, EPA Commissioner Michael Regan defended the Agency’s $20 billion “green bank” program that he claims will “finance a variety of projects to create low-carbon solutions to combat climate change, including in disadvantaged communities that are most affected by pollution.” These funds will not be applied to clean up the PFAS in drinking water, but to purchase more of the boondoggle renewable energy products that are on government-subsidized hyperdrive and generate more PFAS:

“The money could fund tens of thousands of eligible projects ranging from residential heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements to larger-scale projects such as electric vehicle charging stations and community cooling centers, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

“Formally known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, the $27 billion bank — including earlier money — is one of many federal efforts to invest in solutions that cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and address human-caused climate change, a topic the Democratic president has emphasized in his first three years in office and his reelection campaign.

“The bank’s goals are to reduce climate and air pollution and mobilize public and private capital in the communities that need it most…. The program earmarks 70% of the grants for disadvantaged and low-income communities that are often passed over by commercial banks and investors yet are disproportionately impacted by climate change.”

Commissioner Regan doesn’t even mention drinking water clean-up while funding manufacturers who generate PFAS. Is the Biden administration trying to inequitably kill off urban populations with PFAS in the name of saving them from carbon dioxide?

Hidden Taxpayer Costs

The EPA rules impose huge compliance costs on public drinking water suppliers without fining offenders or reducing PFAS emissions:

“While these proposed regulations will fall on water utilities, NCDEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said there is some funding available to help implement these drinking water standards: $2 billion across the country, with $61.7 million going to North Carolina.

“It’s unlikely that money will go far enough: in southeastern North Carolina, the cost to ratepayers has risen to deal with contamination from Chemours. CFPUA [Cape Fear Public Utility Authority] has spent roughly $50 million on new carbon filters that will cost several million each year to operate and Brunswick County is spending over $100 million on reverse osmosis technology. That’s more money than is available for the whole state, spent in just two counties.

“That means rate hikes which might be more easily absorbed by an affluent family can hit a low-income family harder.”

Mandating unachievable, regressive, and expensive drinking water standards for just six out of 12,034 forever chemicals while subsidizing their ongoing generation smacks of corporate-serving sleight of hand and cynical grand-standing. America’s children and grandchildren will be fat, sterile, autistic, or deformed with tumors caused by contaminated drinking water before the climate cult figures out they missed the environmental bus.

Read More From John Klar

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