NYC Proposes Bill to Shift Cost of Lead Pipe Replacement to Property Owners

NEW YORK, NY — The New York City Council has proposed a controversial new bill, nicknamed the “Rotten Apple Bill.” It would require property owners to replace all of their buildings’ lead water pipes within the next decade, costing them thousands of dollars out of pocket. Ahead of today’s hearing of the New York City Council’s Committee on Environmental, Resilience and Riparian Zones, the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning (NYCCELP) — a group that advocates for responsible lead water pipe replacement —NYC Proposes Bill to Shift Cost of Lead Pipe Replacement to Property Ownerscalled a press conference to protest against the bill.

NYCCELP describes the main deficiencies of the Rotten Apple Bill:

  • The bill treats the primary public health crisis as a private matter, shifting financial responsibility from the city to the property owner.
  • The bill does not guarantee assistance to financially struggling property owners who cannot afford to replace their lead pipes, but rather provides for a wait-and-see approach.
  • The bill does not consider the impact on tenants, particularly low-income tenants, who will be disadvantaged if their landlord raises rent to pay for lead line replacement. If landlords choose not to replace the line, tenants could be exposed to lead.
  • The bill proposes that several hundred thousand lead pipes could be replaced efficiently and cost-effectively by having the city bid out the work for the coordinated replacement of all lead pipes. Instead, each property owner would have to separately plan, pay for, and obtain permits for their own pipe replacement, including street paving, from different companies at different times.
  • The law will create a logistical nightmare that will likely result in traffic delays and road closures due to a patchwork of uncoordinated construction projects. Since each homeowner would be responsible for scheduling their own pipe replacements, construction would proceed in a manner that would cause massive and unnecessary disruption.
  • Aspects of health protection, quality control or consumer protection are not taken into account in the draft law, as the work would be carried out by various, uninspected construction teams.

According to a 2023 report by NYCCELP, federal, state, and local resources and funding are available to the City of New York to replace lead service lines. These sources include grants, low- or no-interest loans, surety bonds, and water fees. Research shows that the consequences of passing replacement costs on to private property owners are highly inequitable, disproportionately impacting low-income and communities of color. NYCCELP believes the City of New York should cover the cost of removal because: the pipes are connected to the water main, which is City property; previous connections of the service lines to the water main were approved by the City under Section 24-309 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York; and lead is a legacy problem that was not caused by any of the current owners or residents of NYC property.

Below are quotes from organizations that spoke at today’s press conference:

“With an estimated one in five New Yorkers potentially getting their drinking water from lead pipes – and all the associated health consequences – the city should plan a comprehensive program to replace lead pipes at no upfront cost to homeowners,” said Josh Klainberg, Senior Vice President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. Instead, Intro 942 would require homeowners to cover the costs – up to $15,000 – which is unfair, impractical, and will only delay the replacement of these toxic pipes. We call on City Council members to remove this 'bad apple plan' and replace it with an alternative that is fair to all New Yorkers.”

“This bill would codify the worst practices in the country when it comes to replacing lead pipes. Instead of establishing a structured, equitable program to remove all lead pipes from New York City, it places the responsibility entirely on property owners,” said Valerie BaronNational Policy Director and Senior Advocate, Safe Water Initiative, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)“A good lead service replacement program creates safeguards to protect public health and ensure that people of color and people living in poverty are not disproportionately exposed to lead.”

“Intro 942 is an unfair and punitive approach to addressing the public health threat posed by lead service lines in New York City,” said Lonnie Portis, New York policy and advocacy manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice“Forcing property owners to pay to replace lead pipes is not only inefficient and more expensive, it also exacerbates existing inequities and enables the use of materials that can also pose significant health risks.”

“New York City needs and deserves a lead service replacement plan that protects public health, protects tenants, and addresses the disproportionate burden of lead contamination in environmentally protected communities,” said Marissa Lieberman-Klein, attorney at Earthjustice. “However, Intro 942 does the opposite – it maintains the status quo whereby low-income communities and communities of color face higher levels of lead contamination from drinking water than their white counterparts.”

A recording of today's press conference is available here, photos can be found here.

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