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PFAS Contamination and Cooperative Federalism the Headliners at ECOS’s Fall Meeting

The Environmental Council of States (ECOS) held their annual fall meeting last week in Stowe, VT. While ECOS members represent all environmental media, drinking water was central to many of the conversations.

PFAS

Peter Grevatt, director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, is leading EPA’s efforts to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water and participated in a discussion with ECOS members on the best way forward. Grevatt stated that a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) and maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFAS in drinking water may not be the appropriate way forward as less than 1.5% of drinking water utilities that participated in the third UCMR, which included monitoring for 6 PFAS chemicals, found elevated levels above the Health Advisory Level. Despite the modest national occurrence, several ECOS members pushed for strong national leadership on the issue, with some agency directors asking for an MCL.

Grevatt also alluded to other tactics the agency may take, including a targeted approach based on where PFAS chemicals have historically been manufactured, used, or disposed of. He reiterated that the agency, now under the leadership of Andrew Wheeler, remains committed to the four priorities Scott Pruitt announced in May 2018:

  1. Evaluate the need for an MCL for PFOA and PFOS
  2. Develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS
  3. Develop clean-up standards for PFOA and PFAS
  4. Explore listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA

The toxicity values for the two additional PFAS compounds are on track to be released for public review and comment by the end of September. EPA plans to share the information with states before public release so state programs can be prepared for a response.

Cooperative Federalism and Compliance

Henry Darwin, the Acting Deputy EPA Administrator, spoke to the state administrators on cooperative federalism and compliance and enforcement issues.

Darwin outlined a memo that is under review with Andrew Wheeler, Acting EPA Administrator, that will standardize EPA’s oversight of the states’ programs. There are four key concepts in the policy:

  1. Acknowledging the deference to the states in their primacy
  2. Emphasis on strong communication between headquarters, regions, and states
  3. Standard review of programs and subject-specific oversight, i.e. permitting processes
  4. Clear elevation process

Darwin’s goal is to increase consistency in messaging and oversight across EPA regions and evolve the relationship between states and EPA to focus on improving compliance and public health rather than personalities at each level. Darwin is also establishing a new policy whereby any state-to-EPA requests, made to EPA headquarters or to regional administrators, will be reviewed on a monthly basis and EPA will issue a response within 30-days.

Much of the discussion centered on consistency and uniformity vs. flexibility in how EPA determines the adequacy of state programs. While states want flexibility in individual programs, there are spaces where a consistent response from EPA is needed, such as cross-state issues.

David Ross, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, spoke about compliance metrics for drinking water systems and making sure EPA is focusing on metrics that measure the environmental and public health progress that is happening on the ground. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance is working on new strategic measures to increase compliance and reduce the time from violation to correction. ASDWA is providing input to OECA on their national program guidance.