Lawmakers Attach Environmental Provisions to “Must-Pass” DoD Bill

An oil-drilling coalition called Explore Offshore — fronted by former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp — claims it merely wants to find out what oil and gas might be available off the state's Gulf coast. Nothing more. Right.

Photo: Mark J. Terrill, AP via South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The annual bill authorizing all activities and purchases by the Defense Department is a popular “vehicle” to advance environmental provisions such as banning and cleaning up “PFAS” and “PFOA” toxic “forever chemicals” that have contaminated water all across the country, particularly on military bases. Democrats on both sides of the Hill are focused on prohibiting the Defense Department from buying items containing PFAS, requiring DoD to use the most stringent standard in cleaning up PFAS contamination from defense facilities, and designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous, which would force DoD to clean it up.  In addition, Senator Marco Rubio is seeking to prohibit oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for ten years ostensibly to protect military training areas there.

Why This Matters:  These issues are not new, nor is using this DoD legislation to advance important environmental objectives. Often, particularly during Republican administrations, these provisions are to waive environmental laws or loosen restrictions, not the other way around.  Offshore drilling has been fought by Florida Republican and Democratic politicians at all levels and will remain high profile in the election.  Cleaning up “forever chemicals” is likewise a key issue in many states this election year.

NDAA Showdown

Last year this same defense authorization bill also almost cratered over PFAS/PFOA.  According to The Environmental Working Group, this year the House bill contains provisions to “phase out the Pentagon’s use of PFAS in everyday products, require DOD to meet tough cleanup standards, expand PFAS blood testing to all service members, and require DOD to notify farmers and nearby communities about PFAS pollution were included in the NDAA.”  Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber said in a statement that “Our service members risk everything to keep us safe. We need to do everything we can to protect them from toxic PFAS.”  The Defense Department has been slow to clean up PFAS/PFOA contamination on its installations — there are more than 300 that have water contaminated with these chemicals and the cleanups will cost billions and take decades to complete.

Eastern Gulf and Drilling

The Gulf of Mexico is the area of the U.S. where offshore oil and gas drilling is quite common — and the Trump administration wants to expand it greatly on the east and west coasts.  But the eastern Gulf of Mexico has long been off-limits for oil and gas drilling due to laws protecting it in order to keep it from interfering with important military training activities and because of extreme opposition to it from Gulf Coast residents and business in Florida.  The Trump administration has been rumored to be readying a move to pursue drilling off the coast of Florida shortly after the November election.  The current plan for offshore drilling excludes Florida and the new version has not yet been released. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has two proposals to block drilling in Florida — one would “extend the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the area through 2032” and the other  “would require the secretary of Defense to sign off on all future lease sales in Florida’s Gulf to assure the drilling wouldn’t interfere with military operations,” according to The Hill.

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