This is the twenty-third in our series, ‘The ABCs of the AJP’.
President Biden’s American Job Plan (AJP) has proposed $111 billion in investment in improvements to drinking water and wastewater management systems in the United States. The Bipartisan infrastructure framework that the president ratified last week would bring in about half that amount — $55 billion — that the president nevertheless
described as “the largest investment in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in U.S. history.”
But that includes all of the president’s proposed investments in replacing leaded water pipes and pipes, pointing to a clear agreement between the two parties that it is worth reducing exposure to lead in drinking water.
Infrastructure, unqualified and not connected
Municipal drinking water and wastewater treatment systems are the epitome of infrastructure.
In contrast to electric vehicle and just modernization technologies that the AJP also wants to promote as solutions to the climate crisis, replacement of leaded domestic water pipes much more clearly falls within what is seen as traditional infrastructure.
While the Bipartisan Framework would fund only half of the water infrastructure investments initially proposed by the President, it includes all the replacement expenditures proposed by the President for the lead service lines. In addition, the Democrat-controlled House last week passed the INVESTING in America Act (HR 3684), including $167.25 billion in proposed spending on drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, with two Republican members to vote before.
Take the lead out
Lead in service pipes and domestic plumbing is a well-known threat to public health. According to the US Environmental Protection AgencyThere is no safe level for lead in drinking water and even low levels of lead in children’s blood can cause behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, growth retardation, hearing problems and anemia.
The memory of the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan is also looming in the public eye. in flint, where 40 percent of people live in poverty, the city made a cost-saving decision in 2013 to switching from getting its domestic water supply from Detroit, to the Flint River. The Flint’s water was much more corrosive and not adequately treated, leading to lead in service pipes and domestic plumbing leaking into the water.
Now, after $250 million in state funding and $100 million in infrastructure funding granted by EPA under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016, the troubled service lines and domestic plumbing have been largely identified, with the last 500 service lines planned excavated, checked and replaced this month.
The situation in Flint – described by a researcher as the most blatant example of environmental injustice in recent US history – has become symbolic of the unjust public health consequences that underinvestment in basic infrastructure can have on impoverished communities. Recent analysis suggests that lead exposure in the United States correlates with race.
Yet Flint is not unique:
- Newark, New Jersey, recently deleted more than 18,000 lead service lines at no cost to residents.
- Washington, DC, has started a similar program, although one study found that customer-initiated service line replacements were primarily performed in higher-income neighborhoods.
These programs are costly and require significant government investment to deploy on a large scale. The AJP acknowledged that and had initially proposed $45 billion to EPA State Revolving Fund and WIIN grants to replace all lead pipes and service lines for homes as well as 400,000 schools and childcare facilities. The bill passed by the House last week includes funding for all of these efforts, plus an additional $53 billion to fund safe drinking water infrastructure and $51 billion for wastewater infrastructure.
Infrastructure and environmental justice
As described by our previous post, a driving principle of this government’s infrastructure plan is to address environmental injustice. And perhaps no feature of the AJP links the concept of traditional infrastructure so tangibly to the government’s environmental justice goals as the proposed investment in the replacement of leaded water pipes.
Unlike other public health threats, the risks of lead exposure have long been known and its presence in household service lines and plumbing is well known. As President Biden noticed when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework was set up in Wisconsin last week, more than 70,000 of Milwaukee’s 160,000 water pipes contained lead, although Milwaukee is far from uncommon; “Every state is like that,” he said.
Last Tuesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, along with the mayor of Milwaukee and his deputy, appeared on the water, said removing lead pipelines is necessary to protect children’s health, but that EPA would look beyond lead in water pipes, including the threats posed by lead paint. The administrator described the Bipartisan Framework as a “critical first step” in addressing these threats. It looks like a bipartisan coalition could agree, making the removal of lead pipes a likely part of any infrastructure package passed by Congress.
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