Biden EPA Delays Trump-Era Lead and Copper Rule Again

WASHINGTON­ – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today pushed back the effective date for implementation of the Trump Administration’s federal drinking water regulation, the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions, until December 2021. The much-ballyhooed Trump-era Rule, which left millions of people exposed to toxic lead in drinking water, in many cases for another 33 years or more, was suspended by the Biden Administration in January. 

There is no safe level of exposure to lead. The agency is seeking public input over the next six months on whether to overhaul  the rule, and is hosting roundtables in ten communities facing lead-contaminated drinking water, including Pittsburgh, PA Newark, NJ, Washington, DC, Milwaukee, WI, Malden, MA, Chicago, IL, Flint, MI, Benton Harbor, MI, Newburgh NY, and Memphis, TN.  

The following reactions are from Yvette Jordan, Chairperson of the NEW Caucus, which sued the City of Newark over high lead levels in residents’ drinking water, and Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council): 

“The EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule is broken. The lead drinking water pipes in the ground in my hometown of Newark, NJ are being replaced, but it’s not because the EPA made that happen. It’s because people in Newark fought against lead contamination for years in City Hall, in the streets, and in the courtroom, too. Ultimately, Newark did the right thing and found the money to replace more than 18,000 lead pipes. No other community in America should ever again have to fight so hard for justice and dignity of drinking water free from lead contamination,” said Yvette Jordan, Chairperson of the Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus. 

 “The EPA review of the wholly ineffective Lead and Copper rule is welcome, but we have a long way to go to carry out President Biden's promise to pull 100 percent of the nation’s lead pipes out of the ground. Lead was taken out of gas and paint in the ‘70s; it’s long past time to get this notorious poison out of our water, starting with communities of color that are disproportionately exposed to lead,” said Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director for Health with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). 


NRDC challenged the Trump Lead and Copper Rule regulations in January, 2021 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The NAACP and other advocacy groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the rule in January, too, and ten states filed another lawsuit in March. Those cases are currently on hold while EPA reviews the Rule. 

Removal of all lead drinking water lines is a centerpiece of the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan. There are 6 to 10 million lead service lines (the pipes that run from the water main in the street to peoples’ homes) still in use in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Tens of millions of Americans are served by water systems violating the EPA’s weak rules intended to reduce lead levels in drinking water, according to a new analysis by Dr. Kristi Pullen Fedinick, NRDC’s Chief Science Advisor. Water systems with higher percentages of people of color are far more likely to be in violation and to remain in violation due to ineffective government intervention, according to an analysis by NRDC, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and Coming Clean. 

Due to Newark’s high levels of lead in its drinking water, NEW Caucus and NRDC filed a lawsuit in June, 2018, in an effort to solve the problem. By January 2021, Newark was well on its way to removing over 18,000 lead service lines at no direct cost to residents, in a program that could become a model for other cities nationwide. In the wake of this progress, NEW Caucus, NRDC, Newark, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reached a proposed settlement agreement, which a federal court approved on January 26, 2021. 

Additional Resources:  

Lead and Copper Rule Revisions, Federal Register notice (June 16, 2021) 

Newark Drinking Water Crisis (NRDC website) 

NRDC Sues EPA for Its Illegal Rule That Will Expose Millions to Toxic Lead in Drinking Water (January, 2021) 

EPA’s New Drinking Water Rule Leaves Millions of Lead Pipes in the Ground to Contaminate A Generation of Children (NRDC press release, September 2020)  

Watered Down Justice (2019) by NRDC, Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and Coming Clean 

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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