DOD should expedite and streamline cleanups of sites with contaminated groundwater resulting from defense activities that are directly impacting civilian access to drinking water, according to a “sense of Congress” included in the conference report to the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill. The provision, section 317, calls for the department and the military services “to reduce the financial burden on state and local government who are bearing significant costs of cleanup,” as well as to “continue to engage with and help allay local community concerns about the safety of the drinking water.”
While addressing the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in local drinking water supplies stemming from the military’s past use of firefighting foam has become a top environmental priority for DOD over the past several years, the language does not single out that class of contaminants. A separate provision of the conference report requires the department to outline its plans for cleaning up on- and off-base drinking water supplies contaminated with PFAS after the Environmental Protection Agency establishes a regulatory standard for those chemicals.
Section 317 also calls for the department to “seek opportunities to accelerate environmental restoration efforts where feasible, to include programming additional resources for response actions, investing in technology solutions that may expedite response actions, improving contracting procedures, increasing contracting capacity, and seeking opportunities for partnerships and other cooperative approaches.” The conferees direct the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment to brief the House and Senate Armed Services committees on initiatives being pursued to accelerate environmental restoration efforts within 120 days after the bill is enacted. The briefing was included in the legislative language in the original House provision but the conferees moved it to the measure’s joint explanatory statement.
Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caitlin Russell