The Trump administration today plans to more than double the time it takes for the country’s water utilities to replace utility lines with serious lead contamination – a move critics see as a rollback that will continue to leave dangerous utility lines in the ground for decades .
The EPA’s final lead and copper rule would give utility companies twice as much time to replace some of the most heavily contaminated lead service lines. This is evident from a final rule received from E&E News.
The agency has estimated that there are between 6 and 10 million lead service lines across the country.
The final rule – the first update to federal standards in nearly 30 years – follows much of a proposal the EPA published last fall and touted by the agency to speed up the pace of senior service line exchanges (Greenwire, Sept. 28 ). .
In particular, the last rule would decrease the rate at which lead service lines need to be replaced.
Currently, utilities must remove 7% of lead pipes each year if it is found that more than 10% of the faucets examined have lead concentrations exceeding an “action level” of 15 parts per billion. At this rate, sources said utilities would have about 14 years to replace these lines.
The final rule would lower that rate to 3% per year and give utilities around 33 years to replace lines, according to sources reading the final rule. An EPO official confirmed the replacement schedule earlier this year (Greenwire, March 31).
The last rule would also introduce a “trigger level” of 10 ppb at which utilities would have to consult state regulators to prevent lead pipes from corroding.
Critics were quick to point out that the drinking water did not contain safe lead and called for all lead supply lines to be removed.
“It will basically enable the continued use of leadership services forever,” said Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health and nutrition for the Defense Council for Natural Resources. “The basic assumption is that, even in the most optimistic scenarios, only a subset of the lead service lines will be replaced.”
However, EPA spokeswoman Molly Block countered the criticism in an email, saying the final rule will fill enough loopholes in the current regulation to ensure the replacement of dangerous advances in lead service lines. She also called it “flawed logic” to compare the current rule, which was introduced in 1991, with the final EPA regulation, as thousands of water systems that crossed federal lines could not replace these lines due to drifts and loopholes.
“Ultimately, the new lead and copper rule will drive more cases where lead service lines are replaced and completely replaced,” Block said.
Olson said closing such gaps did not compensate for the slowdown in replacement rates. He also warned that many utilities may not reach the “action level” and would not be required to remove lead service lines, and that these protections are not in place at the state level. Olson said he would prefer an enforceable standard to be introduced across the board.
“There is no enforceable standard on the tap,” he said.
Timothy Male, executive director of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, said he was disappointed that the rule doesn’t create a path for full lead service leads replacement, but added that there will be some improvements to the rule.
“You will see more lead pipes being replaced in places that are having the greatest problems,” he said. “These places will trigger that level in this rule and start replacing.”
‘Knowledge is power’
The EPA plans today to highlight loopholes, unique testing in schools and day care centers, and improving public knowledge of the location of line lines.
For example, the rule would require that all water systems maintain an inventory of lead service lines and collect pipe samples from households with lead service lines if they are in the distribution system. This information would be made publicly available.
Another provision would ensure that whole, rather than partial, lead service lines are replaced. The EPA has announced that the rule will result in lead pipes being removed sooner as it would fill in gaps that currently allow utilities to say they have removed more lead pipes than were actually removed from the ground.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is preparing to unveil the final Guiding and Copper Rule today as a “crucial step in advancing the Trump administration’s federal action plan to reduce lead exposure in children,” according to draft discussion papers received from E&E News.
Wheeler is also preparing to emphasize that the rule requires testing in schools and childcare facilities that are supplied by municipal water systems.
The EPO chief also plans to emphasize that “knowledge is power,” and the new rules will ensure that utility inventory managements and homeowners have timely information on lead tests and resources, including information on funding options, to order help reduce exposure to lead.
Block in her email said the final rule and closing any gaps would ensure more pipelines are replaced. “Since 1997, more than 14,000 water systems have exceeded action levels for lead, but only one percent of the systems have actually replaced lead service lines due to branches and gaps in the old rule,” she wrote. “This means that in over 20 years fewer than 160 water systems in this country have removed lead service lines because the federal key action level for drinking water has been exceeded.”
“So please tell me how the lead service lines will be replaced within 14 years, as the seven percent regulatory text has been in place for more than 25 years,” she continued.
EPA spokesman James Hewitt made a similar point in an email in October describing it as “misleading” that because of the large number of loopholes that are being closed, utilities have more time to spend on lines Replace lead service.
Hewitt said that in the past, the majority of systems that exceeded the action level never implemented the requirement to remove lead service lines.
“For example, after a year with samples below the 15 ppb action level, systems could stop replacing lead service lines. Because of this weakness[es], Loopholes, and other issues, such as testing and allowing partial lead service line swaps, the rule didn’t enforce the swap actually happening within 15 years, “Hewitt wrote.
“If it were, the rule – which is nearly 30 years old – would have required the removal of millions of power lines that still exist across the country,” he said. “So it’s a wrong comparison because replacements were rare.”
However, former EPA officials, scientists, and environmental groups who have focused on lead in drinking water say the rule will actually give utilities more time to replace lead service lines, which could have serious consequences. You have also criticized the EPA rule for being overly complex without clarifying what constitutes a violation.
Betsy Southerland, a former EPA Office of Water employee, said the final rule provides for improvements in monitoring and public disclosure similar to the provisions of the proposal, but there is no expansion of the number of senior service lines that need to be replaced – because that “Action level” is the same – and no acceleration compared to the 1991 rule due to the lower annual replacement rate.
Southerland said the last rule “makes enforcement difficult and hampers and does nothing to expedite pipeline replacements,” calling it a “heartbreaking mistake for all those communities that have to wait another 30 years for lead to get out of their drinking water.” Will get removed.” , especially environmental justice communities, which in turn will be hardest hit. “
Male said that public inventories of lead service lines are invaluable to the public, but noted that it could cost up to $ 5,000 to replace a full lead service line between a street and a house, for example.
Many people, he added, do not have this kind of money, and financial support can be complicated. Under a better rule, he said, all utility companies should have a plan for proactively exchanging lead service lines.
“I don’t think they’ve done almost enough to appeal to disadvantaged and vulnerable populations,” said Male.