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Foam cleanup plan in defense bill runs into trouble

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

President Donald Trump isn’t happy with Congress’ plan to provide aid to farmers affected by contamination from fire suppression foam at military bases nationwide, and he’s threatening to veto the defense spending bill over it and other issues.

The Trump administration does not believe the Department of Defense alone should be held responsible for the cleanup of the contamination at places like Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis and Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo.

“At potentially great cost and significant impact on DOD’s mission, the legislation singles out DOD, only one contributor to this national issue,” the White House states in a letter Tuesday addressing problems it has with the House version of the National Defense Appropriation Act of 2020. The White House didn’t specify who else should be forced to pay for the cleanup.

At least one local lawmaker is outraged by the president’s threat.

“It’s shameful,” U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said of the objection to the contamination provision. The House is expecting to vote on the legislation this week. The Senate passed its version of the bill two weeks ago.

The Trump administration is also upset that the House bill falls $17 billion short of the administration’s $750 billion request for defense spending, and is objecting to the lack of funding for border walls and barriers. Both the House and Senate versions include hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for military bases and national labs in New Mexico.

During a press call hosted by the Environmental Working Group, New Mexico’s senior senator questioned who else could be responsible for the polyfluoroalkyl perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination of the groundwater near bases such as Cannon and Holloman other than the DOD or the Air Force.

“The administration’s position is that the DOD and the Air Force are only a small part of the problem,” Udall said. He said that while the fire suppression foam has been used by other sources that may have exposed parts of the country to smaller amounts of PFAS, the exposure is “far more concentrated around Air Force bases.”

The Senate version of the defense spending bill would authorize the Air Force to construct an infiltration system for dairy farmers, such as Art Schaap, whose dairy operation has been affected by the contamination at Cannon Air Force Base. It would authorize the purchase of land impacted by the contamination.

“One issue is the big plume,” Udall said. He said the Air Force would be required to install a pump-and-treat system.

“The plume is not only headed for dairy farms, but other homes in the area,” the senator said of the Cannon contamination.

Udall said dairy farmers in the area have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on infiltration systems.

Schaap said he’s lost the value of his farm because of the contamination. He said he has lost the value of his animals, noting that they are under quarantine.

“I can’t sell them,” he said.

Schaap said he has had to let 40 employees go.

“That’s 40 people who are out of work,” he said.

Udall, along with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, all Democrats, introduced the PFAS Damages Act to provide relief to communities and businesses affected by PFAS contamination in groundwater around Air Force bases in New Mexico and across the country. The bill was included in the Senate version of the spending bill via an amendment from Heinrich during committee consideration, while Torres Small worked to include a portion of the bill in the House version of the defense spending act.

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