New York, NY — A coalition of 14 attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Letitia James filed comments yesterday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule, National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper: Improvements (LCRI).
In their comments, the AGs applaud the proposed revisions as ones that will strengthen EPA’s 2021 final rule, highlighting “the agency’s decision to generally require the replacement of all lead service lines within ten years,” among other provisions. The AGs note that even with the proposed improvements, there are still areas where the rule should be strengthened, especially in how it addresses “the disparate impacts of lead-contaminated drinking water on underserved communities.” The AGs express concern that the proposal does not provide clear language directing water systems to prioritize environmental justice (EJ) communities disproportionately exposed to lead and does not provide guidance on how to identify these communities for the purposes of strategizing service line replacement. These concerns, among other suggested improvements, stress the importance of addressing the needs of EJ communities and public health overall.
Additionally, the AGs point to studies showing how communities of color and environmental justice communities experience a higher risk of lead exposure “due to lack of infrastructure and investment in their communities.” One such study from the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water noted that “the lack of access to quality water resources and exclusion from water decision making has resulted in the disproportionate exposure of people of color and low-income communities to contaminated drinking water.”
“State AGs have consistently pushed EPA to take a strong approach to keeping lead out of drinking water,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “These comments are a powerful contribution towards urging the agency to make improvements in this rule that will better address the disproportionate harms of lead in drinking water to communities of color and low-income communities.”
Background — The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) protects public health by guiding regulations of public drinking water supplies nationwide. The SDWA authorizes and directs EPA “to set national health-based standards for drinking water” and review drinking water regulations once every six years, providing revisions if applicable. The Lead and Copper Rule, which regulates lead and copper in our public drinking water, is one such regulation and falls under SDWA authority. “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water.” Exposure to lead in drinking water can lead to a wide array of health issues for people of all ages. Children and infants are especially at risk from lead exposure, as this can lead to negative behavioral and learning issues throughout their development.
In February 2020, a coalition of 10 AGs led by then California AG Xavier Becerra submitted comments on proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule by the Trump administration. In their comments, the AGs highlighted the rollback of the lead service line replacement rate as an aspect of the rule that would violate the “anti-backsliding” provision of the SDWA that ensures updates to regulations improves upon previous standards. The AGs also pointed to new information on the health risks of lead exposure in drinking water.
On January 15, 2021, EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR). On January 25, the Biden administration released Executive Order 13990, which directed all agencies to review regulations from the previous administration that were in direct opposition to the Biden administration’s policies “to improve public health and protect our environment” and “to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides.”
In March 2021, a coalition of 10 AGs led by New York AG Letitia James petitioned for a review of LCRR, arguing that EPA had not taken into account the parts of the rule that would violate SDWA’s “anti-backsliding” provisions. The AGs also continued to point to the alarming body of evidence around the health risks of lead exposure in drinking water and they argued that it should be addressed by the Lead and Copper Rule by increasing the rate of lead service line replacement and lowering the action level at which these replacements should occur.
In April 2021, a coalition of nine AGs led by New York AG Letitia James submitted comments in support of EPA delaying the effective date of the LCRR in order to further review the rule. The AGs highlighted the public health and environmental justice needs at the core of any subsequent rule and pointed to EPA’s commitment “to engaging with communities disproportionately impacted by lead drinking water contamination.”
In November 2022, a coalition of eight AGs led by New York AG Letitia James submitted a comment letter in response to a meeting held to consider EJ issues in the development of the proposed rule, LCRI. The AGs urged EPA to ensure 100% replacement of lead service lines and to prioritize other efforts like community outreach and the equitable distribution of funds among local partners.
In December 2023, EPA published the proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper: Improvements.
The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. joined AG James in filing yesterday’s comments.
About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center:
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan academic center at NYU School of Law. The Center is dedicated to working towards a healthy and safe environment, guided by inclusive and equitable principles. The Center studies and supports the work of state attorneys general (AGs) in defending, enforcing, and promoting strong laws and policies in the areas of climate, environmental justice, environmental protection, and clean energy.