Questions arise over ex-State Board of Education member Jason Strayhorn's business as he leaves school post, Michigan

Stevens challenges EPA lead and copper plan in letter

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan's Democratic U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt stricter lead and copper rules, months after Michigan implemented it's own stringent standards that could serve as a model.

The Rochester Hills Democrat asked EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a letter Tuesday to tighten proposed revisions to the EPA Lead and Copper Rule to require the full replacement of lead service lines and a lower threshold for action. 

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, who represents Michigan’s 11th District, speaks during a town hall discussion to address mental health and related issues, including suicide prevention and substance use disorder, at Sarah Banks middle school, in Wixom, February 18, 2020.

Led by Stevens, 50 other members of Congress signed including Democratic U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint, Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield. It also was signed by Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, a representative from Hawaii. 

In the letter Friday, lawmakers asked Wheeler to simplify the "two-tiered system" designating the 15 parts per billion threshold as an “action level” but using 10 ppb as a “trigger level.” Michigan is set to have the nation's strictest lead rule starting in 2025, when the action level lowers to 12 parts per billion.

"We urge you to strengthen the proposal to ensure that the public, and particularly young children and pregnant mothers who are especially vulnerable to lead’s hazards, are fully protected from the scourge of lead-contaminated drinking water," the letter said.

In its November rule revisions plan, the EPA proposed to keep its lead action level at 15 ppb and require 3% of lead service lines to be replaced each year, extending the completion date out by decades. 

The members of Congress who signed the letter urged the EPA to require the replacement of full service lines instead of partial replacements and to provide annual notification to residents with lead service lines. The letter also advocates for additional federal funding to help residents, landlords and communities to replace their lead service lines. 

“There should also be a clear and rational deadline for all water systems to complete this important task,” the letter said. “We recognize the proposal’s incentives for some utilities to complete replacements within 15 years.”

Under Michigan’s new rules, communities have until 2041 to replace all lead service lines — replacing all lead lines at a rate of 5% a year over 20 years. If lead in water exceeds the action level, communities must increase the rate of replacing lead lines to 7% a year.

The Trump EPA has proposed a replacement rate of 3% per year, which would extend the timeline for replacement to 33 years. The proposed rules have been criticized by environmental advocates as not being aggressive enough. 

“We must do everything we can to reduce lead levels in drinking water,” the letter said. “The problem is not limited to Flint, Michigan. EPA estimates 9.3 million lead service lines delivering lead-contaminated water to homes when the rule goes into effect in 2023.”

Higher EPA standards are needed to ensure that communities outside of Flint and Michigan have the tools needed to address water contamination issues, said Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. 

"The proposed EPA rule changes for lead in drinking water are not strong enough to prevent another crisis and will delay the removal of lead pipes that threaten the health of communities across the country," Wozniak said in a statement. "We applaud Rep. Stevens for her leadership on protecting our water from toxic contamination.”