Read the full article by Kyle Bagenstose
“In one of the more dramatic days in Harrisburg in recent memory, lawmakers closed up legislative shop for the year Wednesday voting down a bill seeking financial relief for local communities impacted by PFAS water contamination.
Wednesday was the last scheduled voting session for the year, a day typically marked with intrigue about which bills will be picked from a backlog to get a vote before lawmakers head home to campaign. Big election years such as 2018 elevate the stakes, as both parties consider how votes or bills will be publicly perceived, the days slipping quickly toward November.
The water contamination bill, sponsored by state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Horsham, may have been caught up in such machinations. His House Bill 2638 would implement a system where state taxes generated locally near former military installations could be redirected to help pay clean-up and filtration costs due to PFAS, or perfluorinated chemical, contamination.
The issue is important in Horsham and neighboring towns including Warminster and Warrington. Water customers in those towns are paying millions of dollars to fully remove PFAS chemicals from their drinking water. The chemicals originated in firefighting foams used at area military bases, but the military has only agreed to pay to filter wells down to an advisory level set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the safety of which is disputed…
The bill easily cleared the House with a 165-10 vote last week, but with a catch. Retiring Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny County, modified it to be available to any township impacted by environmental contamination in the state, a measure that some watchers thought may have been too robust to work out in less than a week.
On Wednesday, however, the Senate changed the bill back to deal only with PFAS contaminations at military bases, and passed it 39-10. That sent it back to the House, but that chamber voted it down, 86-95, at 10:31 p.m. The vote struck largely down party lines, with 89 Republicans voting for and 30 against, the six Democrats voting for compared to 65 against.
Stephens said he believes Democrats torpedoed the bill, not wanting to give him a boost in his contest with Democratic challenger Sara Johnson Rothman. He noted Democrats supported the bill when it first moved out of the House last week, both in its original and expanded forms. He also said he worked with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s office for several months on the bill, in order to receive their approval…
All state representatives from Bucks and eastern Montgomery counties voted for the bill Wednesday, with the exception of Madeline Dean, D-153, of Abington, who is running for Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District. Dean was not present for the vote.
Greg Vitali, D-Delaware County, has a reputation as being an environmental stalwart and flipped from last week to vote against the bill. He said the Democratic caucus ultimately saw the bill as more a creation of politics than policy.
‘Frankly, what we are seeing in the final days of session are bills being given to Republicans in competitive seats,’ Vitali said. ‘Stephens is in a tight race with Sara Johnson Rothman, and this bill was perceived by Democrats to be something given to him, for political reasons, to enhance his chance of winning.’
In an email, Johnson Rothman offered a different take. She said it was her understanding the bill in its final form would have limited availability of the funding structure to only communities that contained a military base, leaving out nearby communities such as Upper Dublin, Abington and Cheltenham where some water sources have also been found to contain PFAS.
‘I wish the expanded version would have passed,’ Johnson Rothman said. ‘I would have voted for the bill with the Maher amendments and if it does not pass in November, I will introduce legislation that provides assistance to all impacted communities.’
Stephens took issue with the critique, pointing to language in the bill he said was explicitly crafted to allow communities to seek funds for any PFAS contamination ‘related to the presence’ of a military base…
Despite the heated debate, Bucks lawmakers did bring home some bacon during the last working week of the year. Warrington received a $5.3 million PENNVEST loan, which water director Christian Jones said will be applied toward adding new water filters for municipal wells impacted by PFAS contamination.”