Biden’s infrastructure plan would help Philly fulfill clean water promise

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Every family in Pennsylvania deserves access to clean, safe drinking water.

Unfortunately, in many parts of our commonwealth, particularly in communities in Southeastern Pennsylvania with older infrastructure, we are still struggling to fulfill that promise.

The drinking water crisis that has unfolded in Flint, Mich., in recent years highlighted the threat that aging lead pipes pose to formerly industrial communities like the ones I represent in Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

Schools across Philadelphia have had to turn off water fountains and faucets to protect children from a dire environmental threat. And problems continue to plague families who live in aging homes, where the lateral lines that connect houses to the water main can leach lead into drinking water. Many of these pipes are the responsibility of homeowners to fix — a tall order that can cost working families tens of thousands of dollars.

And threats to drinking water aren’t limited to lead.

In recent years, communities in suburban Montgomery County have been forced to confront contamination from PFOA and PFOS, toxic contaminants introduced into drinking water from military bases and industrial sites. A growing body of research demonstrates the cancer-causing potential of these substances.

In response, local communities and water utilities have had to invest in expensive filtering systems and to expand service to cover communities that had been previously served by private wells.

I have fought hard in the state legislature for additional resources from Harrisburg to meet these challenges and have introduced legislation to tighten safety standards to better protect our communities from these dangerous chemicals.

I’m proud of recent investments Governor Wolf has made in remediating some of these hazards.

Yet state and local governments don’t have the resources on our own to properly address these hazards. We need a partner in the federal government.

Fortunately, President Biden’s Build Back Better Act is focused on addressing pressing environmental concerns, such as these.

In addition to investing billions of dollars in modernizing our electric grid and expanding access to clean, renewable energy, the president is also proposing replacing every lead pipe in our nation and investing in proven solutions to address other threats to our water quality.

This transformative investment would help grow our economy by creating well-paying union jobs that would literally save lives by reducing cancer risks while also helping end a serious threat to young children’s growth and development.

The United States Senate took the first step toward addressing this crisis by passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill that would channel money toward proven solutions.

But that bill only gets us part of the way there. It doesn’t provide all the resources our families need to address these water quality problems. Experts believe replacing every lead service line in the country would require $45 billion, but the infrastructure bill only includes a third of that.

That’s why it’s crucial that Congress quickly pass the second piece of President Biden’s agenda, the Build Back Better Act, that would rebuild our economy by investing in underserved communities and creating jobs by protecting the health of our families.

It would provide enough money to ensure that every lead pipe in America is removed, as well as additional resources to make our water safe from harmful contaminants.

And it would help local communities reduce harmful stormwater runoff, which pollutes our rivers and streams while worsening flooding, by implementing sustainable solutions, like green roofs and rain gardens and revitalizing our wetlands.

That will help communities like Cheltenham Township, which has been seeing increased flooding in recent years in neighborhoods near Jenkintown Creek and Mill Run as climate change brings about more severe and frequent storms.

I look forward to working with our elected members of Congress to push through the strongest possible infrastructure and environment plan that protects the water Pennsylvanians drink every day.

State Senator Art Haywood represents the Fourth Senatorial District, which includes Northwest Philadelphia and portions of Montgomery County. 

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