Padilla, Stabenow Introduce Bill to Ensure Lead-Free Drinking Water for All Americans

Senators propose historic $45 billion investment to replace every lead pipe across the country in the next 10 years

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) announced the introduction of the Lead-Free Drinking Water for All Act, an ambitious effort to invest $45 billion to replace every lead service line and pipe in America over the next 10 years.

As Congress debates infrastructure investments, President Biden included replacing every lead pipe as one of his priorities in the American Jobs Plan. Nationwide, there are 6 to 10 million lead service lines serving up to 22 million Americans. In addition to Padilla and Stabenow, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ),Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Lead contamination in drinking water is particularly prevalent in California’s Central Valley: in 2017, approximately 25 percent of schools in Fresno County reported lead in their drinking water while 

statewide, almost 1 in 5 kids attended school that served drinking water with lead contamination. California is making headway to ensure lead-free water in schools, and this legislation would help guarantee that kids have lead-free access to water when they go home, too.

“The injustice that we all witnessed in Flint, Michigan is happening all across the country, including in California – and it’s hurting communities of color the most,” said Senator Padilla. “This is an environmental catastrophe; children are being poisoned in their own homes and schools and families are being forced to depend on bottled water to avoid contamination. We must act to protect our communities and ensure that every American has lead-free drinking water.”

“In Michigan, we know the devastating consequences of unsafe drinking water,” said Senator Stabenow. “Our bill makes a historic investment to replace lead water pipes and other infrastructure across the country so that no family has to question whether their water is safe to drink.”

State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel said, “Senator Padilla’s leadership in prioritizing access to safe drinking water comes at a pivotal moment as the nation grapples with its aging water systems. Removing lead from California’s drinking water has been an important objective for the state, and we have implemented lead testing in schools and worked with community water systems for years trying to achieve it.  However, this legislation is a turning point because it finally ensures the federal investment required to ensure lead-free communities, especially those who have borne the brunt of lead exposure for years, and it addresses an environmental injustice where it is long overdue.”  

“It’s way past time to protect kids and families from lead-contaminated water by pulling the millions of lead water pipes out of the ground. The lead in water crisis is a five-alarm fire and this bill authorizes $45 billion to remove these pipes called for by the President’s American Jobs Plan, and requires that the job be done within 10 years. This legislation is good for kids, the economy and our future,” said Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director, Environmental Defense Funds said, “EDF applauds the Lead-Free Drinking Water For All Act, which would provide $45 billion to fully replace lead service lines across the country. As we’ve said before, getting the lead out of our water systems is a no-brainer – it will protect our health, reduce inequities, and create jobs. We’re glad to see this step toward a future without lead service lines.”

“Earthjustice strongly supports Sens. Padilla and Stabenow’s Lead-Free Drinking Water for All Act. The lead crisis facing low-income communities of color across the country – like Newburgh, NY — requires bold action by Congress. This bill not only provides the proposed $45 billion needed to replace every lead pipe in the country, but also requires a ten year deadline. Sens. Padilla and Stabenow’s bill ensures that another generation of children won’t grow up exposed to the grave, harmful public health impacts of lead in water,” said Julian Gonzalez, Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice.

“Senator Padilla’s new bill is vital to stopping the pervasive lead contamination of our drinking water.  This legislation not only provides full funding to remove lead pipes but also sets a 10-year deadline to accomplish this critical public health measure.  As the public overwhelmingly supports replacing lead pipes, we urge Congress to swiftly approve this measure,” said Environment America. 

“EWG applauds Senator Padilla and Senator Stabenow for making the lead in drinking water a priority,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group. “Lead can have devastating impacts on our children, and lead service lines disproportionately threaten children in low-income and minority communities. It’s time to simply replace lead service lines and protect our most valuable resource, our children.”

According to the EPA, lead is particularly harmful for young children at any level. Even low levels of exposure to lead have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, impaired physical development, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.

The Lead-Free Drinking Water for All Act would: 

  • Reauthorize EPA’s lead reduction projects grant program and increase the authorization to $4.5 billion per year for ten years.
  • Prioritize disadvantaged communities and ensure that the burden of paying for lead service line replacement does not fall on disadvantaged communities.
  • Require the EPA to coordinate with states on implementation.
  • Set a ten-year deadline for projects to complete the lead service line removal.
  • Guarantee that funded projects pay a prevailing wage.

The bill’s supporters include: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Earthjustice, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Environment America, Environment California, Community Water Center, U.S. Public Interest Research Ground (PIRG), and CALPIRG.

Bill text can be found here.

A one-pager on the bill can be found here.

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