EPA Announces Intent to Strengthen Lead & Copper Regulations, Support Lead Service Line Removal

Dec. 16, 2021

The Biden-Harris administration’s Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan was also announced Dec. 16.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan announced that the agency will begin developing a new regulation to better protect communities from exposure to lead in drinking water.

“Over the past year, I have visited with and heard from communities in Chicago, Flint, Jackson, and many other areas that are impacted by lead in drinking water,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in the news release. “These conversations have underscored the need to proactively remove lead service lines, especially in low-income communities. The science on lead is settled—there is no safe level of exposure and it is time to remove this risk to support thriving people and vibrant communities.”

This is a key component of the Biden-Harris administration’s Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which was also announced Dec. 16. EPA is announcing a two-prong approach to strengthen this regulatory framework, according to the news release.

Beginning Dec. 16, the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions will go into effect to advance critical lead service line inventories that are necessary to achieve 100% removal of lead service lines. The agency plans to issue guidance to assist with the implementation of the rule.

EPA will also develop a new proposed rule, the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements, to strengthen the regulatory framework.

EPA intends to propose requirements and other actions to result in the replacement of all lead service lines as quickly as is possible. Strengthening tap sampling requirements and exploring options to reduce the confusion associated with the action level and trigger level are also goals. Ultimately, these actions will equitably protect public health, according to EPA.

The agency will allocate $2.9 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to states, Tribes, and territories to remove lead service lines. This is the first of five allotments that will provide $15 billion in dedicated funding for lead serve lines replacements in 2022. The law also provides an additional $11.7 billion in general funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Industry associations are beginning to respond to the announcement.

American Water Works Association

“Today’s announcement from U.S. EPA recognizes that the January 2021 Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) are an important step forward in lead risk reduction, and utilities are already hard at work implementing that rule in their communities," stated AWWA CEO David LaFrance. "The required development of lead service line inventories will help communities understand the scope of the challenge and accelerate lead service line replacement. This is a tremendous and necessary undertaking, and many utilities are already advancing this goal and serve as excellent models for others. AWWA looks forward to helping communities find collaborative ways to overcome barriers to lead service line replacement.

The American Society of Civil Engineers 

"The American Society of Civil Engineers applauds the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan released yesterday by the EPA to help communities across the country remove lead pipes out of their drinking water systems," stated the ASCE press release. "For too long, local communities lacked a strong federal partner on water infrastructure investment, and the robust funding and policy changes in IIJA are a big step in the right direction towards renewing that partnership. We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s plan and look forward to seeing further guidance from the EPA’s Office of Water on funding for water infrastructure from the IIJA in the first quarter of 2022."

About the Author

Cristina Tuser