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White House Greenlights New Water Rule Raising Concerns over Potential Spike in Utility Bills

The White House has given approval for a new rule addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” which have been found in the nation’s public water systems. The proposed rule, which has raised concerns over potential spikes in utility bills, would set a new national drinking water standard for PFAS. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the proposal, effectively reducing the health advisory limit for two types of PFAS in all drinking water from 70 parts per trillion (ppt) to 4 ppt.

PFAS are chemicals used in the production of various consumer goods, including fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist grease, heat, oil, and stains. Studies have shown that these chemicals have made their way into the country’s public water systems, with approximately 70 million Americans having their drinking water tested positive for PFAS.

The proposed rule is part of the administration’s efforts to address PFAS pollution and protect public health. In addition to the new rule, the administration has announced a $5.8 billion funding initiative to clean up drinking water and upgrade infrastructure. Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized the importance of providing clean water to every American, regardless of where they live or their income level.

The new rule has drawn criticism from some who question its scientific basis. Former OMB Director Mick Mulvaney expressed skepticism about the decision to reduce the health advisory limit to 4 ppt, stating that he had not seen any scientific justification for such a low limit. Mulvaney argued that the decision seemed to be based on personal preference rather than scientific evidence.

Other countries have introduced limits for PFAS based on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO). Sweden, for example, has set a limit of 90 ppt, while Japan has a standard of 50 ppt. Canada is working on reducing its national limit to 30 ppt. The WHO has stated that PFAS cannot break down in the human body or environment at 100 ppt.

Critics of the new rule have raised concerns about its potential impact on utility bills. A report developed for the American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates that the rule could raise water costs by $80 per year, with new annual costs for water utilities reaching nearly $4 billion. These estimates do not take into account the potential knock-on effect on products that use PFAS.

The Department of Defense (DOD) has also voiced opposition to the new rule, citing national security risks. The DOD relies on PFAS for various technologies and consumable items that enable military readiness and sustainment. The Pentagon estimates that it could cost billions to clean up PFAS infiltration in its infrastructure.

The proposed rule is part of a larger push by the current administration to implement environmental regulations and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Joe Biden’s climate agenda aims to reduce emissions by roughly 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. However, these policy implementations may be at risk if President Trump is elected in November, as he has expressed support for coal, crude oil, and natural gas development.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, any potential changes to the rule would have to go through the same process as its implementation. Critics argue that the decision-making process should be grounded in scientific evidence rather than personal preferences.

In conclusion, the approval of a new rule addressing PFAS in drinking water has raised concerns over potential spikes in utility bills. While the rule is aimed at protecting public health and addressing PFAS pollution, critics question its scientific basis and worry about its financial and security costs. The proposed rule is part of a larger push by the current administration to implement environmental regulations, but its future remains uncertain depending on the outcome of the upcoming election.

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