EPA announces tighter lead water rules, as White House vows to replace pipes

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EPA announces tighter lead water rules, as White House vows to replace pipes

The White House on Thursday announced their ambition to replace every lead pipe in the United States over the next decade, while the Environmental Protection Agency announced steps tightening rules for allowable levels of lead in drinking water.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement that the new rules, expected to be finalized by 2024, would require the replacement of remaining lead drinking water pipes “as quickly as is feasible” and could include new testing requirements for drinking water systems.

The science on lead is settled,” Regan said, “there is no safe level of exposure and it is time to remove this risk to support thriving people and vibrant communities.”

The White House has said that remaining lead pipes across the US would be removed with the help of funds from the recently-enacted $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending law.

Workers with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) install new water pipe on April 22, 2021 in Walnut Creek, California. U.S. President Joe Biden introduced his $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package that could potentially reshape the American economy.
“There is no safe level of exposure [to lead],” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In a statement, the administration claimed that up to 10 million US homes get their water through lead pipes and service lines, while thousands of kids in approximately 400,000 schools and child care facilities remain at risk of lead exposure in their water. 

“President Biden and Vice President Harris believe this is unacceptable and must change,” the statement read. “No child, no family, no teacher, no American should drink water with lead or be exposed to lead paint in their homes.”

Progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have expressed skepticism that the infrastructure bill alone would provide enough funds to remove lead pipes from service and pushed for the passage of Biden’s nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better bill to supplement that. That bill is currently stalled in the Senate.

“The cost to replace every lead pipe in the United States is $45-60 billion,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last month. “BIF [The infrastructure bill] only gives $15b. Without BBB [Build Back Better], many communities historically denied clean water will continue to be denied. Build Back Better has lead $ for disadvantaged communities. We must keep pushing for BBB.”

Workers with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) install new water pipe on April 22, 2021 in Walnut Creek, California. U.S. President Joe Biden introduced his $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package that could potentially reshape the American economy.
The Biden administration said funds from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending law would be used to remove the remaining lead pipes in the US.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“I want to protect our party from the disappointment and collapse in turnout from communities like mine that occurs when we tell them we did things we didn’t do,” she added. “We shouldn’t promise all lead pipes will be fixed if that is not the case. Some will, most won’t. We must push for BBB.”

According to the EPA, the average cost to replace a lead pipe line is around $4,700 – ranging from $1,200 to $12,300 per line. Assuming that there are 10 million lead pipe service lines across the country, it could cost up to $47 billion to replace every one. 

In Biden’s initial proposal for the infrastructure bill, he requested $45 billion in funding for lead pipe replacement. However, the final package only allocated $15 billion. The EPA announced the first investment of $2.9 billion under the law to replace aging pipes Thursday.

The White House had hoped passage of the Build Back Better Act would provide an additional $15 billion in pipe replacement funding, while money from other programs and bills would be used to make up the difference.

States will also be allowed to use the $350 billion State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund in the American Rescue Plan, a stimulus package passed earlier this year to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is unclear how much of that has already been spent. 

With Post wires

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