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April 13, 2021
Contact: Stephen Read

AGs Urge EPA to Fix Trump Administration’s Critically Flawed Lead and Copper Rule

Coalition notes lead exposure is ‘a public health issue of paramount importance’ that disproportionately harms lower-income communities and communities of color.

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of nine attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Letitia James filed comments yesterday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed delay of the Trump administration’s changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, a regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) that sets limits on concentrations of lead and other metals in drinking water, and establishes pipe replacement requirements.
The AGs’ comments emphasized that lead exposure is “a public health issue of paramount importance,” and called for the EPA “to expeditiously remedy the deficiencies” in the Trump administration’s rule. The AGs noted that lead exposure disproportionately harms lower-income people, as a result of “various inequities, including disparities in the quality of housing, community economic status, and access to medical care.” The AGs also noted that communities of color face disproportionate lead exposure through other pathways, including industrial emissions and lead paint.
The coalition urged the EPA to “implement an updated rule that uses the best available science, ... protects the health of all Americans, and rectifies the environmental injustice in access to safe drinking water.” Under the Biden administration, the EPA has committed to engaging with affected communities before allowing any changes to the Lead and Copper Rule to take effect. The AGs “commend these commitments and encourage EPA to conduct deliberate and meaningful outreach,” and emphasize that they “stand ready to work with the agency in this important effort to protect vulnerable communities from the known harmful effects of lead in drinking water.”
“Lead exposure is fundamentally an environmental justice issue, where a range of factors — from housing and healthcare inequities to the siting of polluting facilities — converge to cause widely disproportionate harm to the health of lower-income communities and communities of color,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “As this multistate comment letter shows, state AGs will continue to protect their states’ most vulnerable residents from lead exposure, including by supporting efforts to fix the flaws in this rule.”
Rulemaking and Litigation Background — AGs weighed in on the Trump administration’s initial proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule in comments filed in February 2020. The AGs expressed support for some of the changes, which they described as “significant improvements,” but noted that others ran afoul of the EPA’s obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). In particular, the AGs warned that the reduction of the lead pipe replacement rate from 7 percent to 3 percent annually may violate the SDWA’s anti-backsliding provision, and could allow corroded pipes to remain in place for more than thirty years. The AGs also urged the EPA to acknowledge new information on the health harms of lead exposure by tightening the “action level” threshold that triggers cleanup requirements.
The Trump administration finalized the changes in January 2021 as part of its midnight regulatory scramble, without addressing the issues raised by the AGs, who responded by challenging the final rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
In March 2021, EPA paused the effectiveness of the rule until at least mid-June, while the agency accepts input from the public on whether a further delay of the effective date and compliance deadlines is warranted.
The attorneys general of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., joined AG James in submitting yesterday’s comments.


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. For more information, visit our website