Lawsuit to block stricter Lead and Copper Rule is shameful

A hand is shown filling up a clear plastic cup under a water faucet.
Photo: Cristina Wright

The following opinion piece by Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, was published by the Detroit Free Press on December 27, 2018.

The most important function of government is to protect the safety and well-being of citizens. That’s why it’s disheartening to learn some southeast Michigan cities and the utilities that serve them are trying to thwart Michigan’s new Lead and Copper Rule. Instead of suing to block implementation of the rule, they should put the health of Michigan residents first and work on finding ways to remove lead from water systems and fix ailing infrastructure.

Ridgway White
Ridgway White. Photo: Rick Smith

Communities say they’re worried about cost. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation saw firsthand what happened when decisions made to save money resulted in a population-wide exposure to lead in our home community of Flint. While government fault necessitated a government fix to replace Flint’s damaged pipes, there’s still much that needs to be done to help the city recover and rise from the water crisis.

We’re doing our best to help. At the peak of the crisis, the Mott Foundation granted $4 million to help reconnect Flint to Detroit’s water supply when the state couldn’t find the necessary funds. We’ve committed a total of up to $100 million dollars over five years to support safe drinking water, health needs, education, economic revitalization efforts and more. But we will be the first to tell government at all levels that you can pay to address this health threat now — or pay much more later.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the new lead and copper rule into law earlier this year, calling the weaker federal rule “dumb and dangerous.” The Michigan rule sets a better standard and requires cities to replace their lead service lines within 20 years.

It’s shameful that a coalition of water agencies, some of which serve Michigan’s wealthiest communities, are fighting a rule that would help protect their residents from a potent neurotoxin — one that’s especially damaging to children whose brains are still developing. Lansing replaced all its lead pipes in 12 years. Madison, Wisconsin, has done it. And just last week, Washington, D.C., offered to pay for removal of lead service lines on private property. Surely the communities that have filed suit could use the next 20 years to figure out how to keep lead out of their water, too.

Instead of fighting a requirement to remove lead from our drinking water systems, communities, utilities and public health advocates should work together with our elected officials in Lansing and Washington to find a funding solution to fix lead pipes, ailing water infrastructure, PFAS in groundwater and other stains on Pure Michigan.