Senate Dems seek $70B lead relief, water pipe package

The Detroit News

A group of 26 Senate Democrats unveiled a Flint-inspired legislative package Wednesday that would spend $70 billion over 10 years on water infrastructure improvements and lead relief programs.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township are among the co-sponsors of the Testing, Removal and Updated Evaluations of Lead Everywhere in America for Dramatic Enhancements that Restore Safety to Homes, Infrastructure and Pipes Act, or True LEADership Act.

The package is separate from a Flint-inspired $220 million aid package negotiated by Stabenow and Peters with some Republican senators, but that has been blocked from a vote by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Because Lee put a hold of the bipartisan legislative amendment and hasn’t budged, it has been separated from the energy bill.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, helped spearhead the proposal that faces an unclear fate in the Republican-controlled Senate. The True LEADership Act includes:

■Creating a grant program to help communities reduce lead in drinking water through lead service line removal and education programs.

■Increasing aid for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s state drinking water and clean water revolving funds. Drinking water funding would rise from $3.13 billion in 2017 to $5.5 billion in 2021, while clean water revolving fund assistance would rise from $5.18 billion in 2017 to $9.06 billion in 2021.

■Permanently reauthorizing the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and increasing funding through 2030 to encourage more water infrastructure projects.

■Mandating that states report elevated levels of lead in children’s blood and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate “hot spots in the data.”

■Requiring communities and the EPA to notify the public when lead levels in water exceed federal standards, a proposal by Stabenow and Peters. The Senate has yet to act on a similar House-approved bill.

■Creating a $100 million grant program to help schools test their water for lead contamination.

■Requiring American-made iron and steel in public water systems with some exceptions, a proposal by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

■Establishing refundable tax credits for homeowners who pursue “lead hazard abatement.

■Requiring contractors doing any work under True LEADership Act programs to pay wages at the prevailing rate — usually the union rate. Conservative lawmakers have criticized this Davis-Bacon mandate as artifically driving up costs and gouging taxpayers.

The Flint crisis “has brought awareness about the dangers of lead in other communities in Michigan and across the country and a sense of urgency about the important investments needed so families have safe, clean drinking water,” Stabenow said in a statement backing the package.

“While the Flint water crisis represents an immense failure on the part of the State of Michigan to protect the health and safety of the City’s residents,” Peters said in his statement, “Congress should take action to both help the people of Flint and address the serious challenges presented by our nation’s aging water infrastructure.”