Biden Administration Developing Multi-Billion-Dollar Plan to Reduce Lead in Public Water Systems
On January 15, 2021, EPA published proposed revisions to the “National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Lead and Copper Rule,” which was aimed at reducing the risk of lead in public drinking water systems. After assuming office, President Biden announced a series of environmental policy objectives that included replacement of 100 percent of the United States’ lead water service lines, which present the most significant source of lead introduced into public drinking water systems. Consistent with this initiative, EPA announced a delay of the effective and compliance dates for the Lead and Copper Rule to allow the agency to complete further stakeholder engagement and evaluate the impact of Executive Order 13390 on the Rule on June 16, 2021. Following the conclusion of the stakeholder process, the Lead and Copper Rule became effective on December 16, 2021, imposing several significant new requirements – including most notably for public water providers to complete inventories of all lead service lines in their respective service territories no later than October 16, 2024.
In addition to the recent changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, EPA announced as part of the December 16, 2021 rulemaking that it intends to enact additional significant revisions to the rule through the development of a new set of regulations, referred to as the “National Primary Drinking Water Regulation: Lead and Copper Rule Improvements.” With this new regulatory initiative, EPA intends to address and respond to the issues identified during the stakeholder process. EPA also has announced that it will evaluate the policies set forth in President Biden’s Executive Order 13390 (“Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis”) to ensure that any changes are consistent with the order. EPA stated that it will issue the proposed version of the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements regulations well in advance of the October 2024 compliance deadline of the currently effective rule, signaling that EPA’s new rulemaking efforts are likely to begin this year. It is anticipated that this new rulemaking effort will result in more stringent requirements for public water providers related to lead abatement efforts.
EPA’s continued evolution of its regulatory efforts to address lead in drinking water is in concert with newly available funding streams for public water improvement projects provided by the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Public Law 117-58). The infrastructure package allocates billons of dollars for public water improvement efforts over the next five years, including:
- $11.713 billion for below-market interest rate loans and grants through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund;
- $15 billion for lead service line replacement projects;
- $500 million in grants for Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Reduction in Lead Program;
- $200 million for lead testing and remediation in school and childcare drinking water; and,
- $10 million for a new grant program for lead service line replacement where a community has already completed an inventory.
The renewed federal focus on reducing and eliminating lead in public water systems is also joined by state-led efforts, including legislation recently enacted in Michigan, Illinois, and New Jersey (three of the states with the most lead service lines in the nation) that requires all public water systems to proactively replace all lead water service lines.