Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday announced a White House initiative to eliminate lead from water pipes and homes in the next decade using billions in new funding allocated through the new bipartisan infrastructure law.
“Here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day,” Harris said at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Washington.
The Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan features unprecedented federal funding and a commitment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “to propose requirements that, along with other actions, would replace all lead service lines as quickly as feasible.”
More broadly, the White House plan includes 15 actions across 10 federal agencies, allocations of relevant federal funding, and a cabinet-level partnership to reduce lead in child care centers and schools.
“The science is clear about what drinking water from a lead pipe can do to the human body,” Harris said. “For adults, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and decreased kidney function. In children, it can severely harm mental and physical development. It can stunt growth, slow down learning and cause irreparable damage to the brain.”
As many as 10 million U.S. households, schools and care facilities get their drinking water through lead pipes, and each pipe can cost thousands of dollars to replace.
The funding at Biden’s disposal may determine whether the president can deliver on an issue that has come to symbolize how infrastructure shortfalls have disproportionately put low-income and minority communities at risk, especially in the wake of water crises in Flint, Mich., and Newark, N.J.
Senior administration officials have insisted they have sufficient resources to replace what they estimated were between 6 million and 10 million lead pipes and service lines within a decade. The exact number is unknown.
Replacing all of them could cost more than $60 billion, according to an estimate from the American Water Works Association, which represents water suppliers.
Biden initially sought $45 billion from Congress to complete the task. In the end, Biden got only $15 billion for lead pipes as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law last month.
The White House plan unveiled on Thursday said the administration intends to augment the $15 billion from the infrastructure law with another $15 billion for pipes and paint in the Build Back Better Act, Biden’s domestic spending package that’s currently stalled in the Senate after passing the House in a largely party-line vote.
The White House plan for lead pipes and paints also counts on states deciding to use their share of a $350 billion pot of money from the American Rescue Plan, a Covid-relief stimulus bill passed in March, on removing lead pipes.