Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, and Sam Lovell, Project Manager.
With Congress considering various infrastructure priorities in the coming months to get the country back on track, funding for lead pipe replacements should be an integral part of that effort. Recent surveys of Black Millennials on Flint, BlueGreen Alliance and EDF show that this initiative is strongly supported by both parties across party lines and regions of the country. Financing the replacement of lead pipes protects health, creates jobs, improves the water infrastructure in the long term and reduces health inequalities. It is time to act.
And we are already seeing movement on this important issue, with legislation in the first few months of the new Congress including lead pipe replacement as a top infrastructure priority in both the US House and Senate.
The patchwork of funding was not enough
More than 9 million households in the US still get their water from lead service lines (LSLs), the lead pipes that connect buildings to the drinking water pipeline under the street. LSLs can unpredictably release lead into water, jeopardizing children’s brain development, and putting adults at higher risk for heart disease.
The only permanent, long-term solution is to completely replace the pipes. However, with typical programs, homeowners have to pay if they want to replace their LSL. This poses a major equity problem that can lead to health inequalities, a report from the American University and the EDF shows.
While some states have made great strides in providing funding to communities to develop programs to reduce the financial burden of resident replacement, these efforts have been largely inadequate. Often times, funding allows communities to start programs or provide limited reimbursements to certain residents, which is vital, but it does not allow a community to fully fund the replacement of their LSLs. In Michigan, where all water utilities have had to replace LSLs, cities and towns are grappling with funding for the effort – and many are anticipating significant increases in water rates.
A non-partisan gain for health, employment, infrastructure and justice
Full replacement of LSLs must be a priority, and federal funding is needed to kickstart and accelerate that effort in the 11,000 communities where these pipes still exist.
Recent polls suggest that this is the rare problem that almost anyone can agree on. The national survey found that:
- 4 out of 5 voters (80%) Assistance in financing lead pipe replacement across the country. This includes support from:
- 75% Republicans, 77% Independents, and 84% Democrats.
- 83% of voters in the Midwest, 82% of voters in the Northeast, 79% of voters in the West, and 78% of voters in the South.
- 81% of voters in urban areas, 80% of suburban voters, and 79% of rural voters.
- Over three quarters (79%) voters believe that funding the replacement of lead pipes should be a priority for lawmakers.
These efforts were also supported by both parties last year when the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Moving Forward Act (HR 2) that allocated $ 22.5 billion to completely replace LSL – giving priority to low-income and green communities had
As EDF has already described, investing in our country by completely replacing LSLs would:
- Protect public health of the serious health problems associated with lead exposure, including damage to the brain and nervous system in children and the increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.
- Reduce disparities by allowing utilities to completely replace LSLs, thereby addressing the equity concerns that utilities are currently facing when replacing lead pipes on private property.
- Creation of jobs for plumbers and contractors Who will do the LSL replacements. This is a shovel-ready job with construction and plumbing teams doing the swap.
- More than paying yourself by generating more than $ 205 billion in societal benefits in reducing cardiovascular deaths over 35 years – a 450% ROI on top of the benefits of protecting children’s brain development.
Funding the replacement of LSL should be a bipartisan priority for Congress – it will fuel community growth and prosperity, it will be largely electoral support across the country, and the investment is long overdue. Now let’s get to work.
Take action now and let Congress know it is time to fund the replacement of lead pipes.
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