Grewal calls on EPA to toughen rule governing lead exposure

TRENTON, NJ — Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined nine other attorneys general in calling on the Trump administration to better safeguard the drinking water of communities in New Jersey and across the country by toughening a set of proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, the nation’s primary drinking water regulation for lead.

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency sent Feb. 12, Grewal and the other attorneys general welcome certain improvements contained in the proposed federal rule changes, but note that the agency’s revamping of the LCR still falls short in significant ways. Among other things, the attorneys general emphasize that the EPA needs to consider the impacts of lead on environmental justice communities, and do more to protect those communities.

“The EPA’s proposal is the first update to the Lead and Copper Rule in nearly three decades, but it misses the mark by failing to adequately address our nation’s rapidly deteriorating water infrastructure, which continues to disproportionately impact underserved communities,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “I urge the Trump administration to consider the proposals laid out by Attorney General Grewal and DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe to strengthen the EPA’s rules to ensure that all of New Jersey’s nine million residents have access to clean, safe drinking water.”

“Ensuring that all of our communities are safe from lead exposure is a top priority for the Murphy administration, and that’s why I am calling on the federal government to do everything in its power to strengthen the national drinking water rules for lead,” Grewal said. “Because communities across this country are facing the health consequences of lead exposure, and because those consequences have significant environmental justice implications, this is a time for bold action. I am proud to join colleagues across the country in pushing for more from EPA.”

“As a state that has been at the forefront of recognizing and taking action to address the challenges of lead in our nation’s aging drinking water infrastructure, New Jersey supports the EPA’s efforts to update and strengthen the federal Lead and Copper Rule,” McCabe said. “However, we also find that some elements of EPA’s proposal fall short of the measures that are necessary to protect public health, as well as adding unnecessary complexity to an already complicated rule, and we urge EPA to address these shortcomings in its final rule.”

A primary focus of the attorney generals’ letter is ensuring that the EPA takes into account environmental justice implications of lead exposure. The letter reads that the EPA must do more to tackle the nationwide problem of replacing lead service lines in communities with limited resources.

The multistate letter also provides a series of other changes that the EPA should make to its proposal. Most importantly, the letter challenges the EPA’s proposal on the rate of lead service lines that must be replaced in the wake of water quality testing that showed excessive levels of lead in a community water system, known as an action level exceedance. Under existing rules, the mandatory lead service line replacement rate following an action level exceedance is 7 percent annually. Under the EPA’s proposed changes, lead levels resulting in an action level exceedance would require replacement of only 3 percent of the system’s lead service lines annually. The letter calls on the EPA to retain the current 7-percent annual rate for required lead service line replacement.

Other recommendations from the attorneys general include: evaluating the feasibility of lowering the federal lead action level from its current level of 15 parts per billion; evaluating and adopting methods to help achieve full, equitable lead service line replacement in all communities, including through public outreach on funding options; mandating that, at minimum, all water systems with more than 500 customers — not just those serving more than 100,000 customers — post their required lead service line inventories online; and further protecting children from lead in schools and childcare facilities by ensuring that all lead-testing requirements are mandatory, improving the transparency of lead-testing results, and developing a system for identifying and correcting high lead levels.