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Vice President Harris announces plan to replace country’s lead pipes

Lead pipes are removed from service in Flint, Michigan. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
By AFSCME Staff ·
Vice President Harris announces plan to replace country’s lead pipes
Vice President Kamala Harris announced the administration’s plan to deliver clean drinking water, replace lead pipes, and remediate lead paint during an event at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday announced a plan to replace all of America’s lead pipes and service lines, as well as remediate lead paint in homes to protect families from the harmful effects of lead exposure.

“Over the years I have traveled around the country, and I have met many parents to talk about this very issue,” Harris said at the AFL-CIO’s national headquarters in Washington. “So many parents, parents who were worried that every time they turned on the faucet to get their child a glass of water, that they might be filling that glass with poison.”

The dangers of lead pipes have made national headlines in recent years, most prominently with the water crisis that began in 2014 in Flint, Michigan. When the administration of former Gov. Rick Snyder, in a cost-cutting move and despite warnings against it, switched the city’s drinking water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River, the result was corroded pipes that leached lead into the water supply and harmed countless people.

“The poisoning of Flint's residents isn't some out-of-the-blue occurrence. It isn't a coincidence. It's a consequence of a governing philosophy that puts austerity first and people last,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders wrote in 2016.

Saunders and other leaders were in attendance at the AFL-CIO when Harris announced the details of the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan. The administration plans to make unprecedented investments to ensure families have access to clean drinking water and children are no longer exposed to the damaging neurological effects of lead paint.

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(from left to right): AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, LiUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, Ironworkers President Eric Dean. (Photo credit: AFL-CIO)

Among other things, the administration will:

  • Collaborate with local, state and federal partners to accelerate the replacement of lead pipes over the next decade;
  • Allocate $3 billion to states, tribes and territories for lead service line replacement in 2022, as well as call on states to prioritize underserved communities;
  • Launch a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water;
  • Award grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove lead paint and other home health hazards in low-income communities.

The funds for this historic project will come at least partly from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month and which AFSCME members helped make a reality. The undertaking will help create thousands of well-paying, good union jobs.

“That is why we decided to launch this action plan here in this house of labor,” Harris said. “Because unions know how to do great things. And it is right there in the official motto of the AFL-CIO: ‘Labor conquers all.’ So, we need your help to conquer these challenges. We need your help to make millions of homes, schools, workplaces safe for everyone. And we need your help to make sure this is the beginning of the end for lead in America.”

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, introduced Harris at the event.

“The labor movement, working with the most pro-union administration in American history, is moving our country forward,” Shuler said afterwards.

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