Smith & Cuellar introduce ‘Get the Lead Out’ bill to fund drinking water clean-up & infrastructure projects

Bipartisan bill would help States & utilities like Trenton Water Works

May 20, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC –Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) have teamed up again and reintroduced their bipartisan legislation—the Get the Lead Out Act (HR 3300)—to combat the life-threatening risk of lead in drinking water systems in their districts and across the country. First introduced in 2020, the legislation would provide $66.2 billion over ten years and direct every utility in America to develop a plan to identify and remove lead pipes that threaten the health of residents—especially children.

“Clean, safe drinking water is not a luxury, it’s an essential necessity of everyday life,” said Smith, prime sponsor of the bill. “People need to know that the water they drink and cook with is both clean and safe for themselves and their families—and the lead service line replacement provided by this bill will help give them that peace of mind. All levels of government—federal, state and local—must work together to make clean tap water a reality.

“Replacing the old service lines that deliver drinking water in Trenton and Hamilton in my home state of New Jersey and countless municipalities throughout the country is not just important—it’s critical to good health.” Smith said. “Congressman Cuellar and I will continue to advance this bipartisan legislation to address the threat of lead in drinking water, which can cause long-term harm in adults and is especially dangerous for children, who are particularly  vulnerable to lead.”

Already endorsed by Environment America and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Get the Lead Out Act is poised for expedited consideration and is expected to be reviewed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as early as next week.

“Water is essential to our everyday lives, and no family should have to worry about whether or not their drinking water is tainted with lead,” said Rep. Cuellar, lead co-sponsor.  “Unfortunately, many communities face this issue, leading to devastating health and developmental impacts—especially in children.

“This legislation will provide resources to ensure utility companies invest in critical infrastructure plans to remove the lead, and other dangerous chemicals, from the distribution lines,” Cuellar said. “I will continue to fight for safe drinking water in the 28th Congressional District of Texas and improve my constituents’ health and livelihoods.”

HR 3300—the Smith-Cuellar Get the Lead Out Act—directs all community water systems across the U.S. to develop a plan to identify and replace all lead service lines (LSLs) in their system within 10 years. The plan must be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval.

For community water systems that would struggle to fund these measures, the Smith-Cuellar bill authorizes nearly $66.2 billion over ten years with $46.5 billion targeted specifically for LSL replacement within the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF)—the main federal program to help states upgrade drinking water infrastructure. The DWSRF is a federal-state partnership fund and a key source of grants that allows states to receive monies from the EPA and in turn offer low interest loans—and even forgivable loans—to local water systems to achieve healthy drinking water. While Congress currently authorizes up to $1.9 billion annually to fund DWSRF projects such as lead remediation, the proposed legislation would authorize $4.65 billion in grants available annually for lead removal.

“Lead service lines are a major source of drinking water contamination that threatens our childrens’ health,” said John Rumpler, Clean Water Program Director at Environment America.  “The Get the Lead Out Act not only provides $46.5 billion to replace these toxic pipes but also sets a 10-year deadline for water utilities to get the job done.  We commend Representatives Chris Smith and Henry Cuellar for reintroducing their bold, bipartisan measure. Congress should pass it swiftly—either on its own or as part of a major infrastructure package this year.”

Erik D. Olson, Senior Strategic Director for Health & Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “This bill would take a big step forward towards tackling the longstanding scourge of lead-contaminated tap water. It would generally require all lead service lines to be removed in 10 years and would authorize $46 billion to pull out these old lead pipes. We look forward to working with the sponsors and Congressional leaders to address additional issues as the bill as it moves through the process.”

 “The federal government must act on this critical legislation,” Rep. Smith concluded. “It’s long overdue and the cost of inaction is too high. Drinking water must be made safer for future generations of Americans.”