Lawmakers introduce bill to help farmers with PFAS problems
Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Angus King, I-Maine; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Jared Golden, D-Maine; and Leger Fernández, D-N.M., last week introduced the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act, which would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate.
In a news release, Pingree noted, “PFAS are manmade ‘forever’ chemicals that are used in industry and consumer products and can lead to serious health effects. PFAS contamination has prevented some Maine farms from selling their products, creating financial hardship for many family farmers.”
She said that numerous Maine farmers “have had their livelihoods disrupted due to PFAS contamination, which originated in sludge that was spread as fertilizer by farmers who were told by the government that it was safe to use.”
“The more we learn about forever chemicals, the more urgent addressing widespread contamination across the nation becomes. Our farmers’ livelihoods are in jeopardy. The upcoming farm bill is our opportunity to give farmers the federal support they need,” said Pingree, who is the ranking member on the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and a longtime farmer. “The Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act establishes a USDA program to help farmers in Maine and across the country address PFAS contamination — through testing, compensating farmers for contaminated land, researching and implementing remediation strategies and more. Our bill is an important step forward in mobilizing whole-of-government action in response to PFAS contamination that’s impacting our food supply chain, economy, and way of life.”
Pingree noted that, as chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the EPA, in the 117th Congress she secured $5 million to assist farmers whose land has been contaminated by PFAS.
“USDA needs to step up and provide support to farmers, who through no fault of their own are at risk of losing their livelihoods,” Collins said in a news release. “This is not just a problem in Maine — PFAS contamination has been discovered on farms across the country, and this problem will only become more evident as testing becomes more readily available. Thus far, the federal government’s response has failed to keep pace with this growing problem. I have repeatedly urged USDA Secretary [Tom] Vilsack to come to the aid of these affected farmers, and the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act would direct the department to help where it is needed most.”
Specifically, the funds authorized by the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act could be used for a variety of purposes at the state level, including:
▪ Providing financial assistance to affected farmers;
▪ Building capacity for PFAS testing for soil or water sources;
▪ Monitoring blood for individuals to make informed decisions about their health;
▪ Upgrading or purchasing equipment to ensure a farm remains profitable during or after known PFAS contamination;
▪ Developing alternative production systems or remediation strategies;
▪ Developing educational programs for farmers experiencing PFAS contamination; and
▪ Researching soil and water remediation systems, and the viability of those systems for farms.
The bill would also create a task force at USDA charged with identifying other USDA programs to which PFAS contamination should be added as an eligible activity, and would provide technical assistance to states to help them coordinate their responses effectively.
The relief bill was praised by a variety of farm leaders.
“Maine Farmland Trust is thrilled to see the introduction of the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act,” said Ellen Stern Griswold, vice president and deputy director of Maine Farmland Trust. “MFT has been working for months with a broad range of Maine stakeholders to channel urgent funding and resources to impacted farmers. But more must be done. Other states are beginning to recognize the reality that Maine already has – that PFAS contamination endangers farm families, the agricultural sector, and our food system. It is imperative that we enact a strong federal safety net of support and research to ensure that farmers in Maine and across the country continue to thrive. This bill is a critical piece of that work.”
“Farmers and other impacted communities should not bear the brunt of the cost of the PFAS contamination crisis. Maine has been a leader in working to combat PFAS contamination and help those most impacted, including setting aside $60 million to help PFAS-impacted farmers. However, Maine cannot do it alone. We need Congress to step up and help states provide resources to those who need it,” said Sarah Woodbury, director of advocacy for the Maine-based nonprofit Defend Our Health.
“Following Maine’s lead, this legislation introduced by Sen. Collins will allow states that are dealing with PFAS contamination to apply for funding to help provide resources to those that are hardest hit by this contamination,” Woodbury continued. “This will provide a vital lifeline to farmers who are at the frontlines of this PFAS contamination crisis. Sen. Collins has been steadfast in pushing for policies to help limit sources of PFAS and to provide resources to farmers and other impacted communities most impacted by PFAS contamination. We are grateful to her for her leadership on this issue.”
“American Farmland Trust applauds the Maine delegation for its leadership in introducing this bill,” said Tim Fink, policy director for the American Farmland Trust. “As they know well, the discovery of PFAS can have a profound and devastating impact on a farm family’s livelihood, personal and mental health, and the value of their farmland — through no fault of their own. States like Maine have taken the lead in confronting this urgent challenge to our food system and farm economy, and this bill would provide critical federal support for those efforts.”
“Farmers and ranchers share the concerns over PFAS, and we take seriously the health and safety of America’s families. Farmers do not use PFAS. Putting the financial burden of remediation on farmers would threaten livelihoods in rural America and cause supply chain disruptions at a time when America’s families are already suffering from escalating food prices,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “We appreciate Sen. Collins for her careful consideration of farmer input in the drafting of the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act.”