WASHINGTON – This week, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small continued to fight for communities and businesses impacted by PFAS contamination in groundwater around Air Force bases in New Mexico and across the country.
Earlier this year, the New Mexico delegation introduced the PFAS Damages Act to provide relief to communities and businesses affected by PFAS, including farms and ranches in New Mexico that have been upended by PFAS contamination from Cannon Air Force Base. There are hundreds of DOD sites around the country experiencing PFAS contamination, and the bill was included in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as an amendment from Heinrich during committee consideration, while the House delegation successfully included a key portion of the bill in the House version of the NDAA.
The measure would ensure that DOD takes precautionary action to prevent human exposure, including through agricultural products, provide alternative water or water treatment for contaminated agricultural water, and acquire contiguous property that is contaminated. The Act would also mandate that the Department of Defense (DOD) create a plan of action to clean up contaminated sites and take all necessary steps to prevent further risks to public health. This week, the Trump administration threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if the must-pass defense policy bill includes these provisions championed by the New Mexico delegation that would provide much-needed relief to communities and businesses impacted by PFAS contamination.
“When the president threatens to veto the national defense bill – he is threatening New Mexico’s drinking water and farmers’ businesses and way of life,” said Udall. “There is no end to the hypocrisy. And no end to the endangerment of Americans’ health and safety from this administration. The Trump administration needs to back away from the threats and agree to ensure the families, business owners, farmers, servicemembers and communities who have suffered from exposure to these hazardous chemicals get the immediate relief they are owed.”
“It is truly baffling that President Trump would threaten to hold up the entire defense bill because he is opposed to protecting New Mexico’s dairy farmers, our service members, and military communities from PFAS contamination,” said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “While it is bad enough that he opposes protecting our military communities from PFAS, if he were to take down the annual defense bill it would also sacrifice a host of other major gains I’ve fought hard to provide our men and women in uniform.”
“We can protect both the nation’s security and the economic well-being of dairy farmers in New Mexico. That is exactly what the House bill does. The Department of Defense contaminated the groundwater around Cannon Air Force Base with PFAS chemicals. They need to clean it up. It is as simple as that. The President’s veto threat is incomprehensible and a slap in the face of our nation’s farming community,” said Assistant Speaker Luján.
“This threat shows that President Trump refuses to support service members and their families while also turning a deaf ear to millions of Americans across the country suffering from harmful contaminants on their land and in their water. The NDAA includes pay raises for our service members, improved housing for military families, increases to our military readiness, and provides a remedy for our local dairy farmers impacted by PFAS chemicals in their water and cattle,” said Deb Haaland, member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Our national defense is more important than party lines. But this year, the Administration is setting up a false choice. We don’t need to undermine the economic livelihood of farmers to support our military. We can ensure that the Department of Defense compensates farmers for contaminating their water supply while providing for the needs of the military without delay. Our national defense is too important to turn into a partisan issue,” said Torres Small.
Ahead of the Senate’s vote yesterday on the nomination of Peter Wright, nominee to serve as assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), which oversees EPA’s Superfund program, Udall and Heinrich reiterated their call for EPA to declare – or for Congress to designate by law – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. This designation would force responsible parties, including the Department of Defense, to pay for cleanups of sites with PFAS contamination.
“Families, business owners, farmers, service members and others who have suffered from exposure to PFAS in New Mexico deserve immediate relief. But the EPA is dragging its feet, refusing to designate PFAS as hazardous substances despite their public promises to do so more than a year ago,” said Udall, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “New Mexicans cannot afford any more slow-walking from the EPA on this urgent issue. Peter Wright should not be installed to the lead the office that oversees EPA’s PFAS response if the agency continues to refuse to make this critical designation to expedite the clean-up of these toxic chemicals.”
“Time is not on our side. We need to take action and protect the health and safety of communities impacted by PFAS contamination in New Mexico and across the country,” said Heinrich. “If confirmed, Peter Wright will directly oversee our nation’s hazardous chemical clean-up program. He needs to approach this crisis with a sense of urgency and have a plan of action to coordinate with the Department of Defense to quickly remedy contaminated sites and prevent further risks to public health.”
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are more than 200 military sites across the country with known PFAS contamination in drinking water or groundwater. In New Mexico, tests have detected PFAS in on-base groundwater on and near Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, where 31,000 residents rely on groundwater within the Tularosa Basin. PFAS also found to be contaminating water on and near Cannon Air Force Base. Cannon AFB is located near Clovis, N.M., a community of about 39,000 where agricultural operations have been disrupted by the contamination. Contamination at both sites is expected to be due to the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS. In March, the State of New Mexico sued the Air Force for cleanup and mitigation costs, saying it poses “an immediate and substantial danger” to surrounding communities.