Communities outside state-owned National Guard installations could obtain funding to treat drinking water contaminated with PFOS or PFOA under language in the Senate version of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill. The provision, section 315, would provide the National Guard Bureau access to defense environmental restoration funding to treat water from wells owned and operated by local water authorities. The language is intended to counter an effort by DOD to force the National Guard to use its operation and maintenance funds to cover the cost of cleaning water supplies contaminated due to Army or Air Force activities, according to a news release from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“We are now one big step closer to finally removing PFOS and PFOA from the water supply in the Newburgh and Gabreski communities,” said Gillibrand after the policy bill advanced out of committee in May. Gillibrand sought the provision to aid the communities outside of Stewart Air National Guard Base and Francis Gabreski ANGB.
To be eligible for DOD funding under section 315, treatment must take place during the fiscal year in which a request is made. The local water authority also is required to waive all claims against the federal government for treatment expenses incurred before the fiscal year in which the treatment is completed. The provision also allows the department to reimburse a water authority or state for the treatment of contaminated water if:
- the entity requested payment from the National Guard Bureau prior to March 1, 2018, or the bureau was aware of a treatment plan by that entity prior to that date; and
- the entity waives all claims against the federal government for treatment expenses incurred before Jan. 1, 2018.
The bill also authorizes adding $25 million to the services’ operations and maintenance accounts, including $15 million for the National Guard, reported the Times Herald-Record.
Section 315 is not intended to serve as a statement of government liability, according to the committee report accompanying S. 2987. “This is a process for funding to address a very specific and severe health concern. The committee takes no stance on pending court cases between the federal government and state and local municipalities. The committee hopes that the lessons learned from this incident by all parties involved will prevent such an event from occurring in the future,” the report states.
The House version of the authorization bill does not include a similar provision but it does contain language calling for the department to “expedite and streamline cleanup at locations where contamination is having a direct impact on civilian access to clean drinking water.” The House and Senate will begin reconciling their competing versions of the authorization bill shortly, with the goal of producing a compromise measure by the end of the month.