Energy & Environment

Experts criticize EPA Lead and Copper Rule revisions

tap water being poured into a drinking glass

Experts and advocates on Tuesday criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule to combat lead in the water supply, calling for the agency to require that service lines containing lead be replaced.

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped publicize the Flint, Mich., water crisis, said a plan based solely on health protection would eliminate lead from service lines and maximize corrosion control so children are not exposed to it. 

“We’re never supposed to expose a child to lead,” Hanna-Attisha added during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. 

One witness, however, argued that requiring service lines to be replaced would be a costly burden that would take resources away from other programs.

Angela Licata, the deputy commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, said she “appreciates that EPA’s proposal avoids setting unattainable mandates such as a deadline for the replacement of all lead service lines nationwide,” according to her prepared remarks. 

“Compliance with such a mandate would take decades, cost billions of dollars, and would prevent water systems from allocating their limited budgets to other projects and initiatives that may deliver greater public health benefits,” she added. 

The EPA’s proposed overhaul to the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, unveiled last year, established a 10 parts per billion (ppb) “trigger” level at which cities would be required to reevaluate their water treatment processes and possibly add corrosion-control chemicals to city water.

At 15 ppb, cities would be required to replace the full length of all of the lead service lines in their system. They would only be required to replace 3 percent of lead service lines each year, less than the current requirement of 7 percent.

Proponents of the change say that the trigger level will allow for more proactive action. However, opponents have said that looser rules on how soon cities should replace their pipes will result in lead remaining in systems for more time and also say the 15 ppb action level should be lower. 

“It needs to be lower. It needs to go as low as possible. Five [ppb] would be way better. Zero [ppb] would be great,” Mae Wu, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s senior director of health and food, said on Tuesday. 

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said, however, that the Trump administration should get credit for taking some action to revise the rule. 

“I was here during the Obama administration,” Shimkus said. “Did they promulgate a new lead and copper rule? The answer is no, they did not, so cut the administration a little slack for doing something versus nothing.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no safe blood-lead level has been found for children.

Concerns about lead exposure from drinking water came into the public spotlight in 2015 after the water contamination scandal in Flint.

An EPA spokesperson told The Hill in a statement Tuesday that the agency is “delivering on President Trump’s commitment to ensure all Americans have access to safe and clean water by proposing a new Lead and Copper Rule that requires action sooner, increases transparency, and safeguards our children and most at-risk communities.”

No EPA representative was present at Tuesday’s hearing. The agency said in a statement that the committee chose to “exclude” it from the hearing by not inviting it until six business days in advance. 

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, told reporters that the EPA was given the same time frame as everyone else. 

“These witnesses came from far away to offer comments, and we’re talking about agency reps that are in town and we’re hoping that they would have joined us at the hearing,” Tonko said. 

Asked whether there would be legislative action on the matter, he replied, “Hopefully there will be legislation that will respond to what is a public health crisis.”

—Updated at 5:32 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency John Shimkus Lead and Copper Rule lead in water Paul Tonko

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