Let’s Follow Through on President’s Promise to Pull All Lead Pipes in 10 Years

Fulfilling the president’s crucial commitment is only possible if the EPA fixes its Lead & Copper Rule.

Credit: Dee Dwyer for NRDC

President Joe Biden reiterated the importance of removing lead pipes to help protect American children and families from the scourge of lead poisoning during his State of the Union speech tonight. And just last week, the President and Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in Philadelphia to tout the administration’s major investment in removing lead pipes and fixing the city’s water system. They restated their commitment that, “Through historic levels of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, American Rescue Plan, and annual appropriations, and using regulatory tools across federal, state, and local government, the administration is working to replace all lead service lines in America in the next decade.”   

The President’s and Vice President’s continued emphasis on the importance of removing every lead service line in the country within 10 years is welcome and crucial. But it will not happen unless the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overhauls its weak Lead and Copper Rule for drinking water. The Biden-Harris EPA has promised to strengthen that rule, and recently filed papers in court stating that the agency will no longer defend the ineffective Lead and Copper Rule set by the Trump administration. Instead, the agency promised it will propose a new rule by September 2023 and finalize it by October 2024. To fulfill the President’s promise, that rule will have to require water utilities to fully remove every lead pipe within a decade. This must be done at the water utilities’ expense to avoid the environmental injustices that result when utilities charge individual homeowners thousands of dollars to remove the lead pipes, which has resulted in lower-income homeowners and renters continuing to drink lead.   

Recent polling shows that more than 9 out of 10 Americans—across Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—support requiring water utilities to completely remove these lead service lines within 10 years. In fact, only the economy and inflation were considered more pressing issues, with fixing lead in our drinking water polling above even addressing crime. Indeed, the 9 to 12 million lead service lines found in every state in the country is a serious health threat, especially to children. Lead can reduce children’s IQs, cause learning disabilities and hyperactivity, interfere with impulse control, and cause irreversible harm to the developing brain. In adults, lead has been linked to kidney disease, and many other adverse effects including cardiovascular disease and death.  

The Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to fully removing all lead service lines across the nation within a decade, when fully implemented, will benefit children and adults for many generations to come. Once a lead pipe is gone, it will not be replaced with lead, and our kids and families will be healthier for it.

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