Harris says replacing lead pipes a priority, despite limited funding

NEWARK — Schkeema Troutman had just begun describing the many difficulties of trying to raise a family in a town with high levels of lea...


NEWARK — Schkeema Troutman had just begun describing the many difficulties of trying to raise a family in a town with high levels of lead in its drinking water when Vice President Kamala Harris noticed the mother of three didn’t was not heard.

Ms Troutman’s microphone was not working, limiting her voice to near a whisper during a panel discussion here on Friday. So Ms. Harris got up and put her microphone back on to amplify Ms. Troutman’s story.

“You have so many different things to worry about,” Ms. Troutman said of owning a house near the lead service lines, and the dozens of people in the room could hear her.

“That’s the problem,” Ms. Harris replied. “You shouldn’t have to worry about that.”

The brief exchange underscored the vice president’s goal in traveling to Newark, which the administration sees as a model of how a community can overcome water contamination after years of neglect. But for Ms Harris and the White House, the trip was also an opportunity to amplify issues directly affecting underserved communities, especially amid growing anxiety among civil rights advocates and grassroots organizations after seen President Biden’s sprawling proposals centered on racial equity thinned out during negotiations. with a divided Congress.

The White House has made removing every lead pipe in the United States within 10 years a centerpiece of its plan to address racial disparities and environmental issues in the wake of water contamination crises over the past few years. years, from Newark to Flint, Michigan. As many as 10 million lead service lines continue to deliver water to schools, offices, homes and daycares across the country.

Ms Harris said Newark, which has removed around 23,000 lead pipes in nearly three years, could provide a roadmap for communities across the United States. She described the problem not only as a “public health crisis”, but also as a source of racial disparities.

“Lead pipes exist in high-income communities, but in high-income communities they have the income to fix it, which means whether it gets fixed or not may depend on how much money you have,” Ms. Harris said. . “And that’s not right.”

Ms Harris used the event to highlight $15 billion in funding to remove lead pipes that is part of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that Mr Biden signed in November.

Mr. Biden originally proposed $45 billion in the lead phase-out infrastructure bill. Another $10 billion is hidden in a sprawling social safety net and climate package torpedoed by congressional gridlock. Other administration proposals that supporters celebrated for promoting racial equity have since been scrapped or scrapped entirely as Democrats try to salvage the plan, including investments in affordable housing, supplies of clean energy, home health care and reconnecting neighborhoods divided by highways.

Jill Biden, the first lady, confirmed to educators this week that Democrats scrapped a proposal to offer two free years of community college to the legislation, adding to the frustrations of civil rights leaders who say the administration is not prioritizing legislation aimed at helping black communities and Latin Americans.

“Across the country, frustration is mounting over the failure to cancel student debt, expand voting rights and pass police reform,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP. “For the most part, this administration is saying all the right words, but there are far too few results to back them up.

In addition to giving the Vice President the opportunity to counter these complaints, the trip also gave her the opportunity to escape from Washington, in the midst of worries that she has lost her political momentum and that the White House has sunk her with a portfolio that could produce few political victories.

“One of the tragedies of the first year, and it’s only been a year, was that she was a prisoner in Washington, DC, and she was a prisoner of the press and she’s not on these streets Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina lawmaker and one of Ms. Harris’ top surrogates during her presidential campaign, told The Breakfast Club, a New York-based radio show, last month. “I want her in these places to actually talk to real people.”

On Friday, local officials and Newark residents praised Ms Harris for highlighting exposure to lead, which can damage the brain and kidneys and interfere with red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts from the body. The neurotoxin poses a particular danger to children, whose nervous system is still developing.

But even though she won plaudits for her appearance on Friday, her promotion of a solution whose future in Congress is partly uncertain risked creating another future political backlash for the vice president.

“That’s exactly what communities need: to be heard,” said Yvette Jordan, a teacher and chair of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, one of the plaintiffs who agreed last year to settle a federal lawsuit charging Newark and state officials for breaching security. water laws. “But it’s a first step, not a last step.”

Newark city officials were not always keen to talk about the issue. Mayor Ras Baraka, who sat down with Ms Harris on Friday, has long been accused of overlooking the problem, even going so far as to send a brochure to residents claiming that “water quality meets all federal standards and states”, despite evidence of alarming levels of lead.

But after careful consideration by community organizers and the federal government, the city has begun to recognize the seriousness of the problem. Newark accomplished its turnaround last year before the infrastructure bill passed; Mr Baraka received $120 million in bonds from the county improvement authority.

If the Biden administration wants to see progress replicated across the country, it will need the funding outlined in the broad set of social safety nets, known as Build Back Better, according to Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. Even that might not be enough; According to an industry estimate, removing all lead pipes in the country could cost $60 billion.

Mr. Olson’s organization has called on the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen federal regulations that would require localities to remove lead pipes and recently sent a letter to the agency asking the administration to prioritize investments in underserved communities.

“We are worried,” he said, “they will be left behind.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Harris says replacing lead pipes a priority, despite limited funding
Harris says replacing lead pipes a priority, despite limited funding
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