An issue nearly everyone agrees on: It’s time to fund lead pipe replacement

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, and Sam Lovell, Project Manager.

As Congress looks to various infrastructure priorities in the coming months to get the country back on track, funding replacement of lead pipes should be an essential part of that effort. Recent polling from Black Millennials for Flint, BlueGreen Alliance and EDF demonstrates that there is strong bipartisan support for this initiative across party lines and regions of the country. Funding lead pipe replacement will protect health, create jobs, permanently improve water infrastructure, and reduce health inequities. It’s time for action.

And we are already seeing movement on this important issue, with legislation in the first few months of the new Congress in both the US House and Senate including lead pipe replacement as a key infrastructure priority.

Patchwork of funding has not been enough

More than 9 million homes in the US still get their water from lead service lines (LSLs), the lead pipes connecting buildings to the drinking water main under the street. LSLs can unpredictably release lead into water, threatening children’s brain development and putting adults at higher risk of heart disease.

The only permanent, long-term solution is to fully replace the pipes. However, typical programs require homeowners to pay if they want their LSL replaced — posing a major equity issue that can result in health disparities as demonstrated by an American University and EDF report.

While some states have made great strides in providing funding to communities to develop programs to alleviate the financial burden of replacement for residents, these efforts have largely been insufficient. Often the funding allows communities to start programs or provide limited reimbursements to certain residents, which is critical, but it does not enable a community to fully finance replacement of its LSLs. In Michigan, which has required all water utilities to replace LSLs, towns and cities are grappling with how to fund the effort — and many anticipate significantly increasing water rates.

A bipartisan win for health, jobs, infrastructure, and equity

Fully replacing LSLs must be a priority, and federal funding is necessary to jumpstart and accelerate this effort across the 11,000 communities that still have these pipes.

Recent polling suggests that this is the rare issue that nearly everyone can agree on. The national poll found that:

  • 4 in 5 voters (80%) support funding the replacement of lead pipes across the country. This includes support from:
    • 75% of Republicans, 77% of Independents, and 84% of Democrats.
    • 83% of Midwestern voters, 82% of Northeastern voters, 79% of Western voters, and 78% of Southern voters.
    • 81% of voters in urban areas, 80% of suburban voters, and 79% of rural voters.
  • Over three-quarters (79%) of voters believe it should be a priority for lawmakers to fund the replacement of lead pipes.

This effort also received bipartisan support last year, when an amendment to the Moving Forward Act (HR 2) passed in the House of Representatives that provided $22.5 billion for full LSL replacement — prioritizing low-income and environmental justice communities

As EDF has described previously, investment in our country by fully replacing LSLs would:

  • Protect public health from the serious health problems associated with lead exposure, including brain and nervous system damage in children and increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.
  • Reduce disparities by enabling utilities to fully replace LSLs, thereby resolving equity concerns that utilities currently face in replacing the lead pipe on private property.
  • Create jobs for the plumbers and contractors who will perform the LSL replacements. This is shovel-ready work that involves construction and plumbing crews conducting the replacements.
  • More than pay for itself by yielding more than $205 billion in societal benefits in reduced cardiovascular disease deaths over 35 years — a 450% return on the investment on top of the benefits in protecting children’s brain development.

Funding LSL replacement should be a bipartisan priority for Congress — it will spur growth and prosperity in communities, it is overwhelmingly supported by voters across the country, and the investment is long overdue. Now, let’s get to work.

Take action now and tell Congress it’s time to fund lead pipe replacement.

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