April 03, 2019

VIDEO: Udall Presses EPA Administrator on PFAS Contamination in New Mexico

Secures commitment that EPA will provide support for New Mexico to cleanup PFAS contamination

LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_tLFry4rAI&feature=youtu.be 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, pressed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler about the agency’s role in cleaning up PFAS contamination in New Mexico during a hearing to examine the EPA’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request. Udall demanded that EPA do more to assist New Mexico in cleaning up PFAS contamination and making affected communities whole. 

In New Mexico, the Air Force has confirmed that firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals used around Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base has contaminated nearby groundwater. Several agricultural wells nearby Cannon have been contaminated, causing major disruptions for the local dairy industry, and the extent of impacts near Holloman is still being determined.

Udall has been fighting alongside the New Mexico delegation to make sure that communities and dairy farmers affected by this situation are made whole, including introducing legislation to provide relief to New Mexico communities, ensure the Department of Defense can help agricultural producers facing groundwater contamination from military bases, and require a nationwide remediation plan.  

“EPA delegates primary enforcement responsibility to states and Indian Tribes to clean up contamination. The state of New Mexico is currently trying to compel the Air Force to clean up PFAS contamination of groundwater that has resulted from firefighting foam use at two Air Force bases in New Mexico.  There is now ongoing litigation,” said Udall.

“Given that the New Mexico Environment Department has primacy and delegation agreements from the EPA, I think that EPA is obligated to provide technical and legal assistance on groundwater clean-up on these matters. Will you commit to providing EPA’s assistance to the state of New Mexico’s Environment Department as they work to clean-up PFAS contamination?” asked Udall.

Wheeler said that it was his understanding that the EPA had “already offered assistance.”

Udall pressed back: “The tricky part, is there is litigation with the DOJ and the DOD so we hope that the information you share with the state is not shared with their opponents. That it can be held confidential. We are in an unusual situation where the Air Force is trying to push down the standards and the DOD…they want the PFAS standards to be lower. It’s important to us that you share information with New Mexico on a confidential basis,” said Udall. “Can you do that?”

Wheeler committed to supporting New Mexico Environment Department on a confidential basis.

Udall has called on EPA administrator Wheeler to develop federal drinking water standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as part of the agency’s national management plan for this class of chemicals. In a bipartisan letter to Wheeler, Udall and several other senators also requested that the EPA provide briefings on the agency’s efforts on this issue, as well as regular updates on the progress of those efforts. The senators’ letter came in response to a report that the agency did not plan to establish enforceable drinking water standards for the chemicals, which have been linked to a variety of adverse health implications.

Video of Udall’s questioning of Wheeler is available HERE.