The Detroit News: Rep. Tlaib: Get the lead out to really build back better

September 29, 2021
In The News

It’s easy to see crumbling roads and bridges and understand the necessity to fix and replace them, but much harder to grasp the looming crisis underneath our feet — lead pipes. That difficulty only underscores the urgency of our task to rapidly replace every inch of lead water service lines in this country, and the importance of securing this funding in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act cannot be overstated.

Too many communities — from Flint to Benton Harbor and across Michigan and the country — are facing lead water contamination crises, and our state and local governments need federal partnership to get the lead out.

Alongside Michigan Reps. Dan Kildee, Debbie Dingell and Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Washington, I am proud to have led 65 of our colleagues in the House in securing an additional $30 billion for lead service line replacement, upping the total in the Build Back Better Act to $45 billion, in addition to $700 million to remove lead from school water.

It is critical that these full amounts make it into the bill that goes to Biden’s desk, and not a penny less. We are backed by more than 100 environmental and community groups across the country who are fighting for our right to drink clean water.

A 2018 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that between 2015 and 2018, about 5.5 million Americans in communities around the nation got their water from systems that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lead action level of 15 parts per billion. And that’s just what we know about.

The threat of lead-contaminated water is a long-standing one that has disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color for decades — and has yet to be meaningfully addressed.

We continue to wake up to stories about children poisoned and cities handing out bottled water because we have failed to invest in our water infrastructure. Folks are forced to drink, bathe, cook and wash dishes with water that is literally poisoning them because politicians have put their well-being on the back burner.

On top of it all, this outdated infrastructure also means many of those same people can’t even afford to pay for the water that is poisoning them. Some people in Washington like to pretend to worry about how we’re going to pay for lead pipe replacement, but what we really can’t afford is another moment of inaction.

There are more than 2.65 million service lines in Michigan and as many as 10% of those lines could be contaminated with lead. To replace these lead pipes in Michigan alone would cost $1.65 billion, and this is money we know the state doesn’t have just sitting around. That’s why it’s critical that the federal government step in and step up.  

Clean, affordable drinking water is a human right. There are Flints and Benton Harbors in every part of this country, communities where right now children are drinking water that can alter the course of their life forever.

Replacing lead service lines across the country is a moral imperative. Biden’s Build Back Better Act must include the $45 billion for lead pipe replacement — there is no building back without it.

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