Lead pipe replacement funds in bipartisan deal draw skepticism

Proponents and some Democratic lawmakers are skeptical about whether funding for the bipartisan infrastructure deal will be enough to address the lead contamination problem in the country.

The White House insists that the $ 15 billion in the bill, possibly combined with a separate source of funding, is enough. However, others argue that replacing all of the leading service lines in the country will require three times the dedicated amount.

The White House insists the $ 15 billion in the bill is enough, but others argue that replacing all of the top service lines in the country will require three times that amount.

“We shouldn’t be content with just protecting a few children from lead,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoRun pipe replacement fund in bipartisan deal Skeptical Energy Chief Promotes Electric Vehicle Funding in Senate Plan Almost 140 Democrats urge EPA to “quickly” allow California to set its own vehicle emissions standards MORE (DN.Y.) said during a press conference last week.

“Whether through a bipartisan agreement or through reconciliation, we need to secure as much money as necessary to make it happen President BidenJoe BidenTop advisor to Cuomo resigns Berlin nightclubs participate in COVID-19 pilot project Lead pipe replacement funds in bipartisan deal raise skepticism MORE‘s commitment to getting the lead out of our drinking water. “

Half of the funds to replace lead-contaminated water supply lines would come through grants or forgivable loans, while the other half would have to be repaid to the federal government.

The Environmental Protection Agency Estimates There are between 6 million and 10 million lead service lines in the country, while the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) puts the number between 9.7 million and 12.8 million.

According to the EPA, the average cost to replace just one line is $ 4,700. The cost of replacing all lead lines would be anywhere from $ 28 billion to $ 47 billion according to the agency’s other estimates, or up to $ 60 billion according to the NRDC figures.

That’s in line with projections by the American Water Works Association, which said the replacement cost could reach $ 60 billion.

Meanwhile one analysis The figure of 9.7 million released last week by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the United Association of Union of Plumbers and Pipefitters estimated the total cost to be $ 45.7 billion, the amount the Democrats originally paid for the exchange of pipes wanted.

President Biden proposed $ 45 billion for pipe replacement in his American job plan, and a recent House infrastructure bill would also provide $ 45 billion.

In a letter dated July 21st more than 100 House Democrats also cited support for the $ 45 billion funding level.

“There’s a big gap between $ 15 billion and $ 45 billion,” said Sandra Purohit, director of federal prosecution at E2. “I’ll also say that the $ 45 billion is a conservative figure and that there is still a great unknown of what the actual total leadline survey will give.”

The White House has argued that the bipartisan package of $ 1 trillion will result in the complete replacement of the country’s lead pipelines and has pointed to an additional $ 11 billion in general drinking water funding, which is allegedly used to replace lead pipes could.

A White House spokesman said these sums taken together “account for nearly half of the agreement’s total clean water resources, reflecting what a driving priority it is.”

“The bipartisan agreement with this unprecedented funding will eliminate all leaded drinking water pipes and utilities in the United States – period,” the spokesman said.

But Erik Olson, senior strategic director of NRDC’s program on health and nutrition, healthy people and thriving communities, expressed skepticism that most of the $ 11 billion investment would go into lead pipes, let alone all of them.

“There are already many projects in the pipeline that are waiting for funding. The vast majority of these are not for lead service line exchanges, ”said Olson.

“The notion that even most of the $ 11 billion in the bipartisan deal will go to running service lines is essentially zero. There are many other urgent needs. “

Mike Keegan, a regulatory policy analyst with the National Rural Water Association, said he was backing the $ 15 billion funding because he believes lead line replacement could become cheaper in the years to come.

“By working through the money and implementing it, it will improve the … process of finding lead service lines. Hopefully this will make it cheaper. You will find innovations in removing lead service lines, ”said Keegan.

For some, the different funding mechanisms are worrying.

Olson said the fact that some communities have to pay back funding for lead pipe removal gives wealthy areas an edge over low-income groups.

“When it comes to loans, especially the low-income communities or communities with many low-income people will not be able to use that money,” he said.

Olson also called for a ban on the partial replacement of lead service lines, as reactions between metals can cause additional corrosion, increasing the amount of lead that gets into drinking water.

Lead exposure can cause a number of health problems, including brain and kidney damage, as well as infertility, and is particularly harmful to children.

During the Flint, Michigan water crisis, improperly treated water corroded lead pipes and caused the substance to leak into the water.

Proponents of more funding say the ensuing $ 3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill could provide a way to increase the dollar amount to $ 45 billion if they don’t get extra money from the infrastructure package passed through goes to the Senate.

This move, which would move the budget reconciliation process forward, would allow Democrats to bypass a GOP filibuster.

“We’d like to see the full $ 45 billion. If not in this bipartisan agreement, the rest must be drawn into the reconciliation, ”said Olson.

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