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Udall Calls For Action On PFAS In Senate Floor Speech Opposing Nomination Of Peter Wright To EPA

on July 13, 2019 - 7:49am
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
 
U.S. SENATE News:
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spoke Thursday on the Senate floor to call for action for New Mexico farmers, businesses, and families affected by exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals.
 
Udall outlined his opposition to the nomination of Peter Wright to serve as assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), which oversees the Superfund program that is responsible for regulating toxic chemicals such as PFAS. For years, the EPA has dragged its feet on designating toxic PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund program that Wright seeks to oversee.
 
In his remarks, Udall highlighted the story of Art Schaap, a New Mexico dairy owner whose farm has been ruined by PFAS pollution after he was forced to dump thousands of gallons of milk, lay off employees, and prepare to euthanize his cows. 
 
“Art’s dairy is ruined. He can’t sell his milk. He can’t sell his cows. He can’t sell his property. He is spending thousands of dollars to maintain his cows and dump the milk. In fact, the PFAS levels in Art’s ground water are 371 times greater than what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe,” said Udall. 
 
“This is a national problem of immense proportion,” Udall continued. “Yet this president’s EPA refuses to issue drinking water standards for PFAS. It’s issued only an ‘advisory’ that does not have the force of law. And this president’s EPA has failed to even list these chemicals as ‘hazardous substances’ eligible for Superfund cleanup. Our farmers and rural America deserve better. Much better.”
 
Udall called out the Trump administration for its outrageous threat to veto the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if it includes a provision fought for by the New Mexico delegation to help farms and ranches hurt by PFAS exposure.
 
“Without a doubt – this is one of the most outrageous veto threats I’ve witnessed in 30 years in Congress. Vetoing the defense bill? Over help for farmers facing ruin?  It’s shameful,” Udall said. “Republican leadership in the Senate and House should join us, and make it clear to the president that this is one veto that will be overridden.”
 
Udall also discussed his reasons for voting against Wright’s nomination to run the EPA’s toxic cleanup office, including his former role as a top lawyer for Dow Chemical, the company that manufactured chemicals like PFAS, which have contaminated groundwater in communities across New Mexico. 
 
“This nomination is more filling the swamp by this Administration.  More foxes guarding the hen house… I call upon the president to nominate someone who will commit to tackle this issue with the urgency it deserves and to withdraw his shocking veto threat so that innocent farmers like Art can save their families’ livelihoods,” Udall concluded.  
 
The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
 
Mr. President.  This is a photograph of Art Schaap on his dairy farm in New Mexico -- where he owns 4,000 head of cattle.  Art’s farm is located outside of Clovis, in the central-east part of the state -- adjacent to Cannon Air Force Base. 
 
Art’s a second generation dairy farmer.  He and his family worked hard to build this dairy, keep his cows healthy, and provide nutritious milk to New Mexico and the nation’s consumers.
 
But -- today -- Art will dump 15,000 gallons of milk.  That’s enough milk to give 240,000 children a carton of milk at their school lunch.  And he’ll dump another 15,000 gallons tomorrow, and the next day and the next.  
 
Why is Art dumping all this milk? 
 
Because highly toxic contaminants from Cannon Air Force Base have polluted the ground water he uses to water his cows.  The ground water Art uses for his cows – and for his family’s drinking water – is polluted by a group of toxic chemicals collectively known as “PFAS.” 
 
We know PFAS are dangerous to humans.  They are associated with increased risk of liver, testicular, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.  
They are linked to altered puberty, endocrine disruption, pregnancy disorders, and lowered fertility.
 
Art’s dairy is ruined.  He can’t sell his milk. He can’t sell his cows.  He can’t sell his property. He is spending thousands of dollars to maintain his cows and dump the milk.  In fact, the PFAS levels in Art’s ground water are 371 times greater than what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe.
 
The Air Force knows that it is responsible for this environmental disaster.  But it claims that it doesn’t have the legal authority to provide clean water for Art’s cows or to reimburse Art for his lost livelihood.
 
Art is not alone.  There are other New Mexico dairies located near Cannon Air Force Base that are threatened.  Those dairies have spent hundreds of thousands of their own dollars to install water filters to prevent them from losing their livelihoods like Art has.
 
The Department of Defense has identified over 400 military sites where PFAS were used.  There are over 100 military sites nationwide with known PFAS contamination.
 
This is a national problem of immense proportion. 
 
Yet this president’s EPA refuses to issue drinking water standards for PFAS.  It’s issued only an “advisory” that does not have the force of law.
 
And this president’s EPA has failed to even list these chemicals as “hazardous substances” eligible for Superfund cleanup. 
 
Our farmers and rural America deserve better.  Much better.
 
Although the Air Force claimed it had no authority to provide relief, the then-head of the Air Force, Secretary Heather Wilson, assured me – in a hearing under oath – the Air Force would work with me on legislation to secure that authority for the Air Force.
 
Contrary to that assurance, the Air Force did not work with us on that legislation.  They made it clear they don’t even want the authority to help farmers like Art.
 
So, in March, I introduced the PFAS Damages Act -- along with Senator Heinrich, and Representatives Lujan, Torres Small, and Haaland in the House – to ensure compensation for those hurt and cleanup of contaminated sites.  
 
I also joined Senator Carper’s bipartisan PFAS Action Act of 2019 that requires EPA to establish PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for Superfund cleanup funds.
 
Clean water is not a partisan issue.  New Mexico is a patriotic state and honors its military bases.  But DOD caused this contamination, and needs to make it right. 
 
Senator Heinrich was able to include our bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act – that the Senate passed by an overwhelming margin – 86 to 8 – in June.  
 
It looked like relief – relief owed to Art and others unfairly hurt -- would be on the way.
 
But two days ago, on Tuesday, the president threatened to veto the entire NDAA if it gets to his desk with provisions to help farmers like Art and to clean up PFAS contamination.  
 
That’s a $750 billion dollar bill for national security and defense he’s threatening to veto because it requires cleanup of a known pollutant.
 
Without a doubt – this is one of the most outrageous veto threats I’ve witnessed in 30 years in Congress.  Vetoing the defense bill? Over help for farmers facing ruin? It’s shameful.
 
Republican leadership in the Senate and House should join us, and make it clear to the president that this is one veto that will be overridden.
 
On top of all this, the president is asking the Senate to confirm Peter Wright, a top lawyer from Dow Chemical -- one of the largest chemical companies in the world and one that manufactured PFAS – to run the EPA toxic cleanup office.   
 
This nomination is more filling the swamp by this Administration.  More foxes guarding the hen house.
 
EPA has slow-walked designating PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program Mr. Wright wants to oversee.  Mr. Wright has recused himself from matters relating to DOW Chemical. And therefore will provide no leadership on this pressing issue.
 
The American people deserve a nominee who will clean up current PFAS contamination and prevent future contamination.  Mr. Wright can give no such assurance, and I will be voting no on his nomination.
 
I call upon the president to nominate someone who will commit to tackle this issue with the urgency it deserves and to withdraw his shocking veto threat so that innocent farmers like Art can save their families’ livelihoods. 
 
Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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