Michigan Legislature passes bill to use federal recovery funds for clean water projects

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she would sign the bill, which allocates $1.7 billion toward clean water projects in the state.

Michigan's legislature on Thursday passed legislation appropriating $4.8 billion to upgrade infrastructure, with a focus on upgrades and repairs to pipes delivering water to many minority communities.

Of the allocated funds, $1.7 billion will be spent directly on clean water projects. Among the projects to be funded are loans for communities to replace lead service lines and programs to address emerging contaminants in the water supply in Michigan. With more than 460,000 lead service lines, Michigan ranks among the top ten states where the most lead pipes are in use, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said she would sign the bill into law. "The passage of the Building Michigan Together Plan proves once again that here in Michigan, we're getting it done. Together, we stay focused on solving our shared challenges and delivering for Michigan," Whitmer said in a statement.

Most of the funding for the projects — over $4 billion — will come from federal funds, including the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden. The money will be used to assist communities like Benton Harbor, Michigan, which has for years dealt with lead contamination in the water pipes. The situation reached a crisis point in October 2021, when the city declared a state of emergency and state officials recommended that residents avoid using tap water and instead use bottled water.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that high levels of lead can have extreme health effects on residents. Children, in particular, have suffered from lowered IQ, behavioral problems, hearing problems, anemia, seizures, and death after prolonged lead exposure. Lead can also increase blood pressure and hypertension in adults as well as lead to decreased kidney function.

The environmental agency has reported that lead contamination is especially prevalent in lower-income areas with large nonwhite populations, such as Benton Harbor and Flint, Michigan. According to the Census Bureau, 85% of Benton Harbor's population is Black.

In addition to disbursing funds to states like Michigan, the Biden administration released a "Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan" which seeks to create partnerships between the federal government and state and local agencies to replace lead pipes.

The action plan gives guidance to federal agencies like the EPA, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for how to release guidelines and concrete action steps centered around pipe replacement.

The Biden administration has emphasized lead pipe replacement and has promoted the infrastructure law as a vehicle to accomplish this goal.

"These game-changing investments will put American plumbers and pipefitters to work replacing all of America's lead pipes and service lines and making other critical upgrades," the White House wrote in December. "All families, children, and Americans should be able to turn on the faucet at home or school and drink clean water — including in low-income communities and communities of color that have been disproportionally affected by dangerous lead pipes — while we also create good-paying jobs remediating lead paint in homes."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.