Anyone can be a water advocate - start today!

Please reach out to your Members of Congress on the two important pieces of legislation below:

Ask your House of Representatives Member to support H.R. 7944, the Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act

There is concern that the EPA’s designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA will cause water systems and ratepayers – rather than polluters – to incur environmental cleanup liability that should be faced by the entities responsible for that pollution.

H.R. 7944 would provide a statutory protection for water systems from liability under CERCLA for PFAS to help ensure polluters, not the public, pay for PFAS cleanup.

From the start, CERCLA was built on a polluter pays principle, envisioned as holding companies that produced and profited from hazardous substances that were discharged into the environment responsible for their cleanup. This polluter pays principle is laudable – but unfortunately, the hazardous substance designation of PFOA and PFOS – nondegradable forever chemicals, which are now ubiquitous in the environment— means that drinking water and wastewater systems that passively receive these substances into their systems could face CERCLA cleanup liability simply because an upstream polluter deposited the chemicals in their water supplies.

The CERCLA designation for PFAS exposes drinking water and wastewater utilities to potential litigation from the actual polluters. PFAS users and producers can abuse litigation to reduce their own clean-up costs and increase costs on water utilities – costs which we are then forced to pass along to ratepayers. Even when water systems are able to successfully defend ourselves in court against CERCLA claims, the cost of that litigation alone could contribute to the ongoing water affordability challenge.

CERCLA liability will be an additional burden on top of the significant treatment costs utilities will incur to meet Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act PFAS regulations. CERLCA would unjustly make ratepayers pay yet again for the environmental remedial burden that should be borne by the companies that produced and profited from PFAS for decades.

As the hazardous substance designation of PFOA and PFOS was recently finalized, it is critical that Congress move quickly to ensure that water systems and their ratepayers are not unfairly punished for PFAS contamination for which they bear zero responsibility or blame.

Please ask your House Member to support H.R. 7944, the Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act, introduced by Representatives John Curtis and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. This bill would preserve the polluter pays principle under CERCLA and ensure that water utilities can continue to focus their efforts on maintaining water quality.

Take Action Today!

Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program Establishment Act (S. 3830/H.R. 8032)

In addition, if you have not already, please reach out to your Members of Congress and ask that they co-sponsor the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program Establishment Act (S. 3830/H.R. 8032). The legislation represents an important step toward permanently enshrining low-income water and wastewater ratepayer aid in the federal safety net.

Communities across the country face hundreds of billions of dollars of costs in the coming decades to maintain and upgrade their water and wastewater systems.  These investments will be needed to confront aging infrastructure, changing climactic conditions, and to protect consumers from emerging contaminants.  Despite the historic federal investments in water infrastructure made through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will help reduce the expense, the vast majority of water and wastewater system investment will continue to be borne by local water ratepayers – posing significant challenges to individuals and households at the lower end of the income scale. 

Today the cost of basic water service already imposes hardships on many low-income households, particularly for those in vulnerable communities. The largest national water rate survey found that between 1996 and 2018, water and sewer charges increased about 2.5 times as fast as inflation.  Another study concluded that household water and sewer bills more than doubled between 2000 and 2016, while household incomes remained flat.

Congress recognized this growing water affordability challenge in 2020 when it established the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) at the Department of Health and Human Services. This represented the first time that the federal government created a program dedicated to addressing the burden of rising water and sewer bills on low-income households, and LIHWAP quickly became an essential lifeline for millions of people and the water systems that serve them. Through the 2023 fiscal year, LIHWAP has helped more than 1.4 million households nationwide maintain or restore water service.  Following its initial appropriation of $638 million through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, an additional $500 million was provided through the American Rescue Plan Act later that year.

However, LIHWAP was only established as a temporary program, and its initial $1.1 billion appropriation expired at the end of the 2023 fiscal year. As a result, without further congressional action water rate assistance will no longer be part of the federal safety net, putting hundreds of thousands of households at risk of losing their water service, and leaving tens of thousands of water and wastewater systems without needed operational revenues.

The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program Establishment Act would address this problem by providing a long-term authorization for LIHWAP, allowing HHS to continue its important work of allocating funding to states and tribes for distribution to drinking water and wastewater systems to offset the bills and arrearages of qualifying low-income customers.  This model, which leverages the social services resources and expertise of HHS while enabling water and wastewater systems to interact with states and tribes to directly access funds for qualifying customers, holds the most promise for ensuring that LIHWAP operates as efficiently as possible.

Kentucky & Tennessee Government Affairs