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Vice President Harris visits Pittsburgh to tout $5.8 billion for clean water, lead pipe removal

Vice President Kamala Harris, center, laughs with crews working with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to replace a lead water line on Lakewood Avenue in Pittsburgh's Elliott neighborhood on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Credit: Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 20, 2024

PITTSBURGH — During a visit to the Steel City on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the Biden administration is dedicating $5.8 billion of federal funding toward lead pipe removal and clean water projects, including more than $200 million in Pennsylvania.

“Can you believe that, in the United States of America, that is still not necessarily guaranteed to all people: access to clean water?” Harris said. The Biden administration, she added, “decided to deal with the fact that Americans in up to 10 million homes and children in thousands of schools and childcare facilities had to drink water coming out of lead pipes.”

Harris was joined by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, speaking before an audience at the Kingsley Association Community Center in the city’s Larimer neighborhood. 

“For years, parents, grandparents, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties and uncles, people in the community have been talking about this issue and have been demanding to be seen and be heard,” Harris said, “demanding and saying, ‘look, it does not require a scientist or a doctor to understand the impacts of lead pipes on the health of our children.’ And the voices of the community must be heard.”

The funding is part of a $50 billion investment in water infrastructure upgrades from President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act delivered the single largest investment in water infrastructure in U.S. history,” Regan said. “$50 billion to replace lead pipes, protect treasured waters, and build drinking water and wastewater systems that are resilient in the face of climate change.”

Harris said Tuesday that the city of Pittsburgh has replaced more than 3,000 lead lines since the last time she visited the city in 2022. 

Pittsburgh’s problems with lead pipes date back to at least 2014, when the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) found elevated lead contamination levels in drinking water, partly attributed to its outdated infrastructure. In 2016, lead levels rose to 22 parts per billion, above the federal threshold of 15 parts per billion that requires remedial action. 

PWSA has since replaced more than 10,000 public lead water lines and more than 7,500 private lead water lines. Earlier this month, the authority announced lead levels at 3.58 parts per billion, which it said was an historic low for Pittsburgh. 

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said Tuesday that the White House had been an “incredible partner” in the work to replace lead pipes, and that the work would help ensure the next generation had clean and safe drinking water.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-12th District) called the funding a “crucial step” toward a new reality “where our communities aren’t deemed sacrifice zones anymore.” 

Lee said Tuesday she was “proud to be standing here on the precipice of a new reality — one that has been fought for by generations of activists and organizers, in communities like mine, who demanded that their basic rights were recognized, and who had to work hard for the bare minimum: to live in a community where their environment didn’t pose an active risk to their health.”

 U.S. Rep. Summer Lee speaks at the Kingsley Center in Pittsburgh Feb. 20, 2024. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Before speaking at the Kingsley Center, Harris met privately with some two dozen community and faith leaders from the Pittsburgh area. She discussed the high stakes for the election, and touted the Biden-Harris administration’s record of accomplishments on behalf of Black Americans, including what she called record growth for Black-owned small businesses and record-low Black unemployment, and more than $7 billion in investments in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

After the vice president’s brief remarks, U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-17th District) told reporters that the effects of the funding would vary by community, but noted that the city of Pittsburgh was on track to have lead pipes completely replaced within the next two years. And he noted it was Democrats who had moved the infrastructure act forward.

“Ninety percent of House Republicans voted against the infrastructure law,” Deluzio said. “So if you want your kids poisoned by lead pipes, and crumbling roads and bridges, send the Republicans back to power.”

 U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (PA-17) speaks to reporters at the Kingsley Center Pittsburgh’s Larimer neighborhood on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Following  the Kingsley Center appearance, Harris made an unscheduled stop in the city’s Elliott neighborhood, to visit a construction site in a residential area where workers were replacing lead pipes. 

“Communities have been crying out for support to get rid of these lead pipes,” Harris said at the site. “This is one of the projects that is taking place because of our infrastructure work and it’s about good paying jobs, union jobs.” 

She added that the construction company doing the work, Independent Enterprises, had hired more than 100 people to do the lead pipe replacement work.

“The families that live here deserve to be heard and deserve to get the attention that they’re now receiving because of our work. So, thank you.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.