Mass. officials call on feds to rethink funding cut for lead pipe replacement program

Three of the Bay State's highest-ranking elected officials are calling on the Biden administration to reconsider changes to a grant program that led to a $30 million cut in the state's share of a lead pipe replacement program.

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, along with Attorney General Andrea J. Campbell and state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan on Thursday, arguing that the funding cut undermines the state's efforts to eliminate lead water pipes removing and replacing, particularly in historically underserved communities.

The state has made “great progress in removing lead-contaminated utilities so that all of our communities can rely on clean drinking water,” Healey said in a statement, calling on the EPA to “provide us with the resources to continue doing this together.” “important work.”

In 2022, the commonwealth received nearly $65.8 million from the federal government through the agency's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Lead Service Line Grant program, Healey, Campbell and Goldberg said in their joint statement.

Thanks to an adjustment to the administration's funding formula, the state's grants fell to $33.7 million last year and will continue to do so in “future years of the program,” the three officials said.

This could amount to a loss of up to $112 million over the next three years, with $55 million of that reduction hitting disadvantaged communities if the current formula is maintained, officials said.

The state will get back $5.76 million of its 2022 allocation. But this is “only a small step” towards reversing the funding cuts, they said.

Goldberg, who is also chairman of the Clean Water Trust in Massachusetts, said the state has “very serious” concerns about the data the EPA used in its funding calculations.

They also included “formulas that do not take into account relevant state-specific factors and a lack of clarity from EPA that voluntarily requested data from states would be used to determine funding,” officials said.

In their letter, the three officials said Massachusetts has a “particular need” for lead remediation because the state has a high proportion of pre-1940 housing, where lead is “widespread” in water supply pipes.

The state has used the federal money to assess needs and develop action plans in 121 of the state's 351 cities and towns, and funded recovery programs in Boston, Fall River, New Bedford and Somerville, they said.

This money is “critical to continuing the important work of protecting our vulnerable residents from the negative health effects of lead in drinking water,” said Bonnie Heiple, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, adding that her agency and “communities in Massachusetts are willing to spend “make money, complete projects and get the work done.”

“EPA has been a strong partner in this work and we eagerly await their decision on reconsidering this funding,” Heiple continued.

Last fall, both of Massachusetts' U.S. senators, along with all nine members of the Bay State's U.S. House delegation, sent their own letter calling on the EPA to reevaluate its “significant” cuts to the lead pipe program.

The funding cut “threatens access to clean drinking water for residents across the state, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” federal lawmakers said in a joint statement.

Due to a reallocation of EPA funds, Massachusetts is expected to receive a grant from the EPA. However, this amount is intended to fill the funding gap caused by EPA's new allocation rules. Massachusetts' federal delegation has strongly advocated for an overhaul of EPA's methodology, including in a September letter.

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