EPA intends to ‘strengthen’ lead and copper regulations as LCR revisions take effect

lead pipe

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan announced that the agency will begin developing a new regulation to better protect communities from exposure to lead in drinking water. EPA says it is committed to using every tool available—statutory authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, technical assistance, funding and more—to protect all Americans from lead in drinking water.

The agency says it will collaboratively work with local, state and federal partners, to make rapid progress on President Joe Biden’s goal to remove 100 percent of lead service lines, with a focus on prioritizing communities disproportionately impacted by lead contamination.

“Over the past year, I have visited with and heard from communities in Chicago, Flint, Jackson and many other areas that are impacted by lead in drinking water,” said Regan. “These conversations have underscored the need to proactively remove lead service lines, especially in low-income communities. The science on lead is settled—there is no safe level of exposure and it is time to remove this risk to support thriving people and vibrant communities.”

EPA says the announcement of the new regulation is a key component of the Biden-Harris administration’s whole of government Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which was also announced.

Following the agency’s review of the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) under Executive Order 13990, EPA says it has concluded that there are significant opportunities to improve the rule to support the overarching goal of proactively removing lead service lines and “more equitably protecting public health.” EPA is announcing a two-prong approach to strengthen this regulatory framework.

On Dec. 16, the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions officially went into effect in what EPA says will advance critical lead service line inventories that are necessary to achieve 100 percent removal of lead service lines. The agency plans to issue guidance—including best practices, case studies and templates to help develop lead service line inventories—to assist its partners in implementation of the rule.

EPA will also develop a new proposed rule, the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements, that will strengthen the regulatory framework. EPA intends to propose requirements that, along with other actions, would result in the replacement of all lead service lines as quickly as is feasible. EPA also intends to consider opportunities to strengthen tap sampling requirements and explore options to reduce the complexity and confusion associated with the action level and trigger level, with a focus on reducing health risks in more communities. The goal of these potential lead service line replacement regulatory improvements—coupled with non-regulatory actions—is to more equitably protect public health.

Additionally, EPA will allocate $2.9 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to states, Tribes and territories to remove lead service lines. This 2022 allocation is the first of five allotments that will provide $15 billion in dedicated funding for lead serve lines replacements. In addition to the dedicated investment in lead service lines, the Law provides an additional $11.7 billion in general funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which can also be utilized for lead removal projects.

The AWWA and ASCE are among industry groups reacting favorably to the initiative.

AWWA

AWWA CEO David LaFrance issued this statement:

“Water professionals are committed to protecting their communities today as we work for a future where lead is no longer in contact with drinking water.

“[This] announcement from U.S. EPA recognizes that the January 2021 Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) are an important step forward in lead risk reduction, and utilities are already hard at work implementing that rule in their communities. The required development of lead service line inventories will help communities understand the scope of the challenge and accelerate lead service line replacement. This is a tremendous and necessary undertaking, and many utilities are already advancing this goal and serve as excellent models for others. AWWA looks forward to helping communities find collaborative ways to overcome barriers to lead service line replacement.

“As EPA prepares its new Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), AWWA is pleased the agency will prioritize underserved communities in lead service line removal. Our own research demonstrates that historically underserved communities often have lower confidence in their tap water safety. Addressing lead issues in these communities can be an important step in strengthening public trust in community drinking water.

“Beyond EPA’s rulemaking, AWWA is pleased that the newly announced Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan seeks to address lead exposure in a whole-of-government approach. Increased collaboration among federal agencies can help reduce lead risks from all potential sources.”

ASCE

In a statement from executive director Tom Smith, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said it applauds the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan released by EPA to help communities across the country remove lead pipes out of their drinking water systems:

“Access to clean and safe drinking water is critical to public health and economic prosperity, and ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave a grade of C- for the drinking water category. It is estimated that as many as 10 million American households still have lead water pipes in use, which can put at risk the health and safety of families, particularly children. For utilities, moving forward with completing an inventory of lead service lines as part of the Lead and Copper Rule is a critical step, so we can get a better national picture of the scope of the problem.

“This plan will allocate nearly $3 billion from the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to states for lead service line replacements in FY 2022 and will prioritize communities with the highest lead levels. While additional investment will be needed, it is a significant down-payment on a national shared priority of clean drinking water for all Americans. It will allow utilities of all sizes to accelerate their rate of lead pipe replacement and offer technical assistance to those communities just embarking on these types of projects.

“For too long, local communities lacked a strong federal partner on water infrastructure investment, and the robust funding and policy changes in IIJA are a big step in the right direction towards renewing that partnership. We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s plan and look forward to seeing further guidance from the EPA’s Office of Water on funding for water infrastructure from the IIJA in the first quarter of 2022.”

To see additional actions that EPA is taking under Biden’s action plan, visit: whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/12/16/fact-sheet-the-biden-harris-lead-pipe-and-paint-action-plan/

For more information on EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, visit: epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/review-national-primary-drinking-water-regulation-lead-and-copper.

For more information on estimated 2022 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund allotments to remove lead service lines through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, visit: epa.gov/infrastructure/water-infrastructure-investments.

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