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Higgins calls for federal action on WNY lead exposure


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-26) is formally putting federal agencies on notice about the hazardous conditions creating alarming lead contamination rates in Buffalo, Western New York and thousands of other "hotspots" reported in a recent Reuters special report.   Higgins criticizes proposed budget cuts that would further exacerbate lead poisoning rates among children and in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Transportation cites the urgent need for deliberate action to identify and eliminate lead contamination sources.

"By failing to address the lead issue both through abatement programs and infrastructure replacement we are failing our children," said Congressman Higgins.  "The federal government has the responsibility to commit to a robust infrastructure plan that attacks the old, decrepit water and sewer lines across our nation's aging cities. Prevention and Rehabilitation is the best solution to this national health epidemic."

Higgins also spoke about the issue on the House Floor:

Lead Based Paint Prevention

In 1992, Congress authorized federal grants administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to state and local municipalities, to establish Lead-Based Paint prevention and remediation programs to homeowners.

President Trump's 2018 budget would cut HUD's funding by $6 billion and eliminate the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnership programs entirely.  Congressman Higgins' district alone would lose more than $21 million in CDBG funding, a portion of which could be invested in public infrastructure projects; sewer and pipe replacement, road repairs, and housing rehabilitation.

The proposed federal budget allocates just $130 million nationwide to the Office Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, a program that has contributed to a 70 percent reduction in childhood lead poisoning cases since 1993.

Lead Based Infrastructure Improvements

The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national standards for drinking water to protect against health effects from exposure to naturally occurring and man-made contaminants.

An EPA report to Congress indicated that the U.S. has a twenty-year capital improvement need of $384.2 billion for drinking water infrastructure and the American Society of Civil Engineers graded our nation's major drinking water infrastructure with a 'D' rating.   Furthermore, in 2015, 18 million people were served by water systems with lead violations, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

A limited number of federal programs exist to recapitalize or replace old drinking water infrastructure. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) helps public water systems finance infrastructure projects by providing loans to local communities or utilities to support highest priority projects, and is the primary program which addresses the replacement of lead pipes.

While the White House budget touts a proposed $4 million increase in DWSRF funds, that represents increase of just .17%, not nearly enough to address the need, while at the same time playing a shell game by eliminating the Water & Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program that provides $500 million toward local water infrastructure.

Higgins has advocated for a robust investment in U.S. infrastructure previously and plans to introduce comprehensive infrastructure bill in the coming weeks.