Capito presses Pruitt on report

MARTINSBURG — W.Va. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito does not plan on letting Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt off the hook anytime soon about whether he knew about the suppression of a federal report on hazardous chemicals in drinking water.

According to e-mails, the EPA and the White House sought to block publication of the Department of Health and Human Services study on toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites in locations from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.

The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than the EPA has previously called safe, according to the e-mails.

Capito raised the issue of possible EPA interference with Pruitt during a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Thursday on the EPA’s fiscal year 2019 budget.

Capito said she has a vested interest in the report, since West Virginia has been hit with two major chemical pollution crisis in the last five years. In May 2016, Martinsburg’s Big Springs Water Filtration Plant was closed down when perfluoroocatoic acid and perflurootanesulfonic acid were found in the water.

Martinsburg spent an estimated $4.5 million to rebuild the water plant, money the Air National Guard had first promised to pay in January 2017, acknowledging the toxins were released from Air National Guard planes. The offer was rescinded five months later. On May 12, city officials gave city attorney Kin Sayre the go ahead to file a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking to get a portion of the money back.

Capito said she was somewhat surprised when Pruitt told the committee he didn’t know of the DHHS report.

“He knows about it now,” Capito said. “I will still be pressing him to release this. I don’t why we would withhold this information, particularly with Martinsburg and Parkersburg — and maybe other areas — being impacted.”

Capito called releasing this and future reports critical to determining clear water safety standards for toxic materials.

“I feel strongly that we need access to more fuller scientific data regarding the PFOA and PFOS chemicals in our water sources,” Capito said “We need that information for our health safety.”

Pruitt told Capito he planned to discuss the issue at the EPA stakeholder summit on Tuesday that will include federal, state and inter-agency officials. Capito is also going to be pressing Pruitt on establishing more stringent EPA guidelines on hazardous chemical materials that may be found in drinking water.

The EPA currently classifies PFOA and PFOS as materials designated with a warning alert. Moving the chemical to a higher toxic classification allows the EPA to take action against the responsible government party to provide remediation of the contaminated site.

“It moves the scrutiny of that chemical way up the list,” Capito said. “Right now, these PFOAs and PFOSs are not on that high toxic list, but I think Pruitt says he is looking at that EPA high toxcity list.”

Capito said the EPA also has to set clear safe levels for those chemicals.

“We need to get a scientific analysis of the safe level — I don’t think that we have reached that yet,” Capito said. “There was some fear expressed in these e-mails that the level was going to blow the budget of the Department of Defense, or somebody else. My view is, if our water is unsafe, then the remediation and the cost of remediation and who has to ever redmediate it, you better dag on do it.”

While Capito said she will press Pruitt on the report and establishing higher EPA hazardous material standard, she is taking a more pragmatic view on ever determining who suppressed the report.

“I’m going to have to accept the fact that he says he (Pruitt) didn’t know,” Capito said. “I think we’re better forging ahead and getting it (the report) released and finding out what the safe chemical levels are.”

By:  Jim McConville
Source: Martinsburg Journal