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February 14, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Ten State AGs Say EPA’s Proposed Drinking Water Standards are Insufficient to Protect Against Lead

Trump administration proposal rolls back requirements for lead service line replacements, allowing old lead pipes to remain in service for decades to come.

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of 10 state attorneys general led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the outdated and inadequate Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), a set of regulations required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to protect Americans from the pernicious health impacts associated with drinking water contaminated with lead. In their comments, the AGs say that while the proposed rule includes significant improvements over current regulations, other aspects fail to adequately protect public health, potentially in violation of the SDWA. In particular, the proposed rollback of the lead service line replacement rate — from 7% to 3% annually — may violate an “anti-backsliding” provision in the SDWA which mandates that revisions of a “national primary drinking water regulation… shall maintain, or provide for greater, protection of the health of persons.”
“The Environmental Protection Agency should make every sensible attempt to tackle the dangers of lead in drinking water. Trying some isn’t enough. That’s why this EPA proposal fails the test Americans expect,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “There is no room for backsliding on the standards protecting our families from the well-documented dangers of lead. We don’t have decades to wait before we fix this problem — we owe it to our children now to employ stringent standards when it comes to keeping lead out of our drinking water.” 
“Ensuring that all of our communities are safe from lead exposure is a top priority for the Murphy Administration, and that’s why I am calling on the federal government to do everything in its power to strengthen the national drinking water rules for lead,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Because communities across this country are facing the health consequences of lead exposure, and because those consequences have significant environmental justice implications, this is a time for bold action. I am proud to join colleagues across the country in pushing for more from EPA.”
The AGs’ comments outline three key suggested modifications to the proposed LCR:

  1. Evaluate whether a lower “action level” is feasible. The proposed LCR maintains the existing action level — the threshold that, when reached, requires water systems to address lead in drinking water. The AGs say that new information on the health impacts of lead in drinking water and the reduced cost of removing lead service lines may call for a lower action level.
  2. Improve standards covering lead service line replacement:
    • Eliminate the rollback of the mandatory lead pipe replacement rate. The current LCR requires water systems that exceed the lead action level to replace lead service lines (LSL) at a rate of 7% annually. The proposed LCR reduces the required replacement level to 3%.
    • Evaluate environmental justice concerns related to lead pipe replacement. The proposed LCR disproportionately harms low-income homeowners who may not be able to afford to replace their LSLs. Under the existing and proposed LCR, water systems are only responsible for funding LSL replacement on public property.
  3. Improve information sharing. The AGs urged the EPA to mandate that all water systems serving more than 500 customers post inventories of lead service lines online. The proposed LCR will only require 1% of the nation’s public water systems, serving less than half of the nation’s population, to post LSL inventories online. The AGs also called for additional public education requirements to raise awareness of the sources and risks of lead exposure.  

Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal that can harm almost every organ and bodily system and is unsafe at any level. Children exposed to lead face especially dire health risks, including serious neurological and developmental problems. In their comments, the AGs cite a multi-year study that found that approximately 400,000 Americans die every year from exposure to low levels of lead.
The attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin joined California in submitting the 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. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website