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Why this Matters: Lead pipes predominantly impact low-income, nonwhite communities across the nation — they are a major environmental justice flashpoint. Biden told Congress last month that these lead pipes are “a clear and present danger to our children’s health.” Biden’s measure that addresses the removal of lead pipes is one of the most popular parts of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal — a CBS News poll showed 85 percent approval. This would help alleviate a major environmental justice concern and regain Americans’ trust in their municipal water systems.
The initial standard, written in 1991 and ratified under the H.W. Bush administration, required 90% of homes tested to have lead levels below 15 parts per million. The Trump administration changed the rule, lowering the “trigger level” to 10 parts per billion and ensuring that utilities test water from homes with lead service lines. But Trump extended the deadline for utilities to replace these lead water lines from 14 to 33 years. This left millions of Americans with contaminated tap water, putting young children especially at risk of lead poisoning and irreversible brain damage.
The good news is that the bill that improves this water infrastructure has bipartisan support. The Senate voted 89 to 2 to spend $35 billion on fixing America’s water systems. But there is still room to improve, as Biden initially advocated for setting aside $111 billion to mend treatment plants and service lines. He emphasized that this could help “create thousands and thousands of good-paying jobs” for plumbers and pipefitters.
But regaining the public’s trust after years of neglecting their unsafe drinking water will be difficult. Wayne Vradenburgh, head of the local water department in Newburgh, NY — a town where a quarter of the city’s 28,000 residents live in poverty, many in buildings with lead pipes — emphasized that residents no longer believe in the safety of tap water. “We lost the trust of the public,” he told the Washington Post. “You can’t put a money value to that.”
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In August, the federal government declared the first-ever water shortage along the Colorado River as drought pushed its largest reservoir, Lake Mead, to record lows. Now, that shortage is threatening the power supply of 5.8 million homes and businesses and water levels at the nation’s second largest reservoir, Lake […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The controversial Line 3, a pipeline expansion under construction in northern Minnesota that would transport one million barrels of tar sands per day, hasn’t begun operating yet, but is already causing harm. The line’s construction, coupled with drought, has created low water levels in Minnesota lakes where Indigenous Anishinaabe […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In another significant blow to the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, the EPA has asked a federal court to allow Clean Water Act protections for parts of Bristol Bay, a body of water that stands to be decimated if the project continues. Environmental advocates and Alaska Native tribes hope […]
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