Federal budget bill could finally address Maine’s lead pipe hazard

While Democrats in Congress are crafting a federal budget reconciliation package that aims to tackle climate change and expand the social safety net, proponents are also calling for the bill to include the funding needed to replace 100% of the lead pipes which have proven to be a significant hazard in places such as Lewiston and other areas in the county.

The urge for such funding in the $ 3.5 trillion budget – which is slated to go through the reconciliation process to avoid a Republican filibuster – became more urgent, according to experts, after a bipartisan infrastructure bill was approved by the U.S. Senate last month included only $ 15 billion for lead pipe removal. Lawyers have argued that is nowhere near enough to replace all lead pipes in the US, with a total cost estimated at $ 28 billion to $ 60 billion.

“It would be unreasonable for our country to have a major infrastructure overhaul that would leave three out of four lead pipes intact,” said the Sierra Club wrote of the $ 15 billion proposal.

On Monday, the Energy and Trade Committee took a major step towards strengthening these investments and presented a financing plan for the budget reconciliation, the one an additional $ 30 billion for replacing lead pipes. If passed along with the Infrastructure Bill, it would raise funding for lead pipe replacement under the Biden government’s Build Back Better agenda to $ 45 billion.

As a result, environmental groups and public health experts say the passage of the Budget Reconciliation Act is critical to truly addressing the lead pollution issue.

“This is about public health and environmental justice, and we need to replace all lead pipes in public water systems, period,” said Matt Cannon, Campaign and Policy Associate Director at Sierra Club Maine, citing the amount of funding for the replacement of lead pipes in the infrastructure measure ” unacceptable”.

“We need the full amount. and [this bill] is a big step in addressing this toxic lead crisis, ”he added of the proposed allocation in the reconciliation package.

Lead exposure was linked resulted in a variety of negative health outcomes, particularly for children and pregnant women, and came to the fore after the Flint, Michigan water crisis lead reached the city’s water supply through aging pipes after the city and state illegally failed to properly treat the water. Flint, a mostly Black City, is another example of what low-income communities of color are like more likely exposed to lead than other populations.

Across the country, the Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that there are 12.8 million known pipes that are, or could be, made of lead. It is unclear how many of these lines are in Maine as the state doesn’t Track this data. However, the NRDC study estimates that there could be as many as 15,000 such pipes in Maine.

The subject has surfaced in the state in recent years as an investigation by USA today in 2016 identified 44 samples in 26 schools or daycare centers with concentrations of lead in the water higher than EPA guidelines. And the problem is particularly pronounced in Lewiston and Auburn, where lead poisoning is estimated to occur in this metropolitan area 3 times that of the national average.

“Lewiston has a lot of old apartment buildings that were built with lead in paint and plumbing,” said Councilor Safiya Khalid. from Lewiston called in June, when the debate on the infrastructure and reconciliation packages began in Congress. “These buildings are now home to many low-income families and immigrants with many children, and these children are regularly exposed to harmful levels of lead.”

Maine Congressmen have also taken note of the issue. U.S. MP Jared Golden, a Democrat whose Lewiston district is a part of, introduced legislation 2019 would be “Order the federal government to take necessary measures to end lead poisoning in American homes. That bill would have provided $ 12.5 billion in grants to state, local governments and nonprofits to help solve lead-related issues.

More recently, Golden has defended himself the infrastructure bill, which includes a $ 15 billion investment in the removal of lead pipes, however did not say whether he will support the Law of Reconciliation and a higher proposed amount of funding for attenuating leads. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The public is advocating extra money to address the lead on what’s in the infrastructure package, according to a opinion poll by Data for Progress published on Wednesday. That poll found that 72% of voters are in favor of funding the removal of all lead pipes in the US, while only 20% opposed it.

Cannon said he hoped the extra money proposed in the reconciliation package for replacing lead pipes can help get Golden on board with the bill.

“I hope that this component will allow him to vote for it, along with all of the other climate and job and labor standards benefits included in this reconciliation package that are really crucial for our country and for Mainers,” he said .

Photo above: W. Carter via Wikimedia Commons

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