Important lead pipe replacement bill may not pass the General Assembly this session
“If you can’t count on a glass of clean, safe drinking water, you’re not free. And you’re not able to live a life of your choosing,” said Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “So, fixing lead pipes, as the president is proposing, is absolutely an infrastructure investment — and, by the way, one of the best investments we can make in future generations.”
To be sure, a lot of very important and overdue legislation is passing the Rhode Island General Assembly this session. But one critical bill that will not pass is H8153 which would “establish a lead water supply replacement program for public and private service lines within the next ten years and require the disclosure to tenants and buyers of real property of the presence of lead service lines.”
The bill passed in the Senate in a slightly different form as S2755aaa, would use federal money, $146m from the federal Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act specifically targeted for lead pipe replacement. Why did the bill stall in the House?
House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi told Uprise RI that he’s holding off on the bill this year because he’s not sure of the federal guidelines as to how the money should be spent. He plans to talk to United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who shepherded the Infrastructure bill through Congress, about spending guidelines.
The Childhood Lead Action Project maintains that a meeting with Secretary Buttigieg is not necessary. The bill, according to a factsheet they produced, “does not conflict with any federal requirements or conditions for receiving funding.”
The bill stalling this year is a shame, because lead pipes disproportionately affect low-income and BIPOC communities. Under the bill, funding will be prioritized for these these and other disadvantaged communities. And unlike the current lead-pipe replacement program offered by Providence Water, this program will be free for residents and property owners.
The bill has the support of the Rhode Island Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency Region 1, and the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. Amendments from Providence Water were included in the bill.
No amount of lead exposure is safe. Every minute a lead pipe remains in the ground, a child is in danger of ingesting more lead, a serious issue with life long implications.
“To me, infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible for Americans to thrive. And that includes things like roads and bridges, but it also includes things like pipes,” said Secretary Buttigieg, in an interview with The Grist. “If you can’t count on a glass of clean, safe drinking water, you’re not free. And you’re not able to live a life of your choosing. So, fixing lead pipes, as the president is proposing, is absolutely an infrastructure investment — and, by the way, one of the best investments we can make in future generations.” [emphasis added]