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Biden administration releases plan for tackling lead pipes

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The Biden administration released a new plan for removing the country’s lead pipes on Thursday, and also said that it would allow a long-delayed Trump administration rule to take effect. 

The plan, announced Thursday in a fact sheet, notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will “begin to develop” new regulations for lead and copper pipes. 

But, in the meantime, a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday, a twice-delayed Trump rule concerning lead pipes will be allowed to take effect. 

The official said that overall, the Biden administration feels the rule is “more protective” than what was previously in place, touting a provision in the Trump rule requiring utilities to create inventories. 

But they also raised concerns about the rule, which did not, as some environmentalists had hoped, lower the level of lead concentration in the water at which cities need to take preventative action.

The official also expressed concern about the Trump rule’s “lack of a requirement” to remove 100 percent of lead pipes. 

The administration provided few details on what its own forthcoming lead rule would entail, but the official said it will require “100 percent of lead service line removal as quickly as is feasible.”

And the administration is expected to review testing requirements, the so-called “action level” that it raised concerns about as well as a “trigger” level at which cities would be required to reevaluate their water treatment processes. 

Exposure to lead can have negative health effects, especially in children, for whom it can cause brain and nervous system damage and slowed growth and development. 

During the Flint water crisis in Michigan, water that wasn’t adequately treated caused corrosion to lead pipes and resulted in the substance leaching into the water.

The Biden administration’s plans were broader than just the EPA’s proposal. 

It also said it would distribute about $3 billion in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law for lead service line replacement next year, and said it would be “calling on states to prioritize underserved communities.”

The EPA and Labor Department will also create regional technical assistance hubs that seek to “fast track” the removal process. 

Meanwhile, the Housing and Urban Development Department will distribute grants to remove lead paint and other hazards in low-income communities. 

Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to formally announce the plan on Thursday during remarks at the AFL-CIO union headquarters in Washington D.C.

This is the second environmental plan Harris has helped to roll out this week, with the vice president also announcing the administration’s electric vehicle plan on Monday. 

The bipartisan infrastructure law devoted $15 billion in the bill to lead pipe removal. Another $11 billion in additional general drinking water funding could also play a partial role. 

While the White House has said this number is sufficient, environmentalists have argued that much more is needed, citing EPA estimates on the number of lead service lines and their cost to replace. 


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