Lead pipes have endangered the health of kids in cities across the United States, drawing attention in recent years in Flint, Michigan, in particular. But Flint is far from alone: There are an estimated 9 million lead pipes carrying drinking water in the United States. Now the Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward the large-scale change this crisis requires. A new proposed rule would require lead pipes to be replaced around the country over the next decade.
President Joe Biden has emphasized the importance of action like this. “We’re replacing every single, solitary lead pipe in America. Hear me?” he said at a June campaign event. “Fewer children are going to die and have mental illness.”
Under the proposal, local utilities would have to dig up and replace the pipes, doing 10% of the pipes in their service areas each year. This is a huge job, and it will require funding over the years, though the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $15 billion for lead pipe removal. That’s a good start, but this is a job that will take $45 billion to $60 billion, according to estimates.
It’s work that needs to be done.
In Chicago, about 75% of the city’s water pipes are lead—and Illinois law is allowing 50 years to finish replacing them. Kids can’t wait that long.
The new plan “is like a pediatrician’s dream come true,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Michigan State University professor and pediatrician who uncovered the Flint water crisis, told The Washington Post. “I am overjoyed on behalf of kids everywhere — kids in Flint, in Newark, Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Jackson and places we know of and don’t know of.”
The advocacy group Food & Water Watch, though, balanced its appreciation for the progress this move represents with a call for more and faster action. “It is long past time to remove all lead service lines, and no community and no household should be left behind, regardless of ability to pay,” Food & Water Watch’s Mary Grant said in a statement. “Congress must step up to provide funding to replace the entire service line at no cost to impacted households, prioritizing low-income and environmental justice communities.” She specifically called on Congress to “pass the WATER Act to provide a permanent, dedicated source of federal funding at the level that EPA says is necessary to comply with federal water quality regulations.”
The EPA rule will face a public comment period and is expected to be finalized in fall of next year. This could be one more issue hanging on the 2024 presidential election. As we saw after the 2016 election, Republicans rushed to overturn rules put in place in the final months of the Obama administration using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 legislative days (as we know, that’s very different from days total, or even regular working days) to pass resolutions blocking new regulations from going into effect. If the EPA doesn’t get this rule out quickly and a Republican is elected president with Republican control of Congress, this desperately needed regulation could be crushed.
There has been a ton of coverage in recent weeks over a streak of poor 2024 polling for Democrats and Target Smart’s Tom Bonier joins us to help us separate the wheat from the chaff. We talk about what to take from these polls and how to balance them against the much more positive election results we’ve seen this year. We also discuss how early voting data continues to evolve and how Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign will use Ohio’s recent abortion and marijuana referendums to find new persuadable voters next year.