Pallone Visits Perth Amboy to Highlight Need for Investments in Water Infrastructure & Solutions to Address Lead Poisoning
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) joined Mayor Wilda Diaz in Perth Amboy to highlight the need for investment in water infrastructure in New Jersey and throughout the country. In February, Pallone introduced, the AQUA Act, which significantly increases water infrastructure funding authorization so local communities can repair and replace their aging water systems to ensure residents have access to clean and safe drinking water. Pallone, the Senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also advocated for solutions to address lead poisoning in water at a hearing last week.
"Our water infrastructure has not been sufficiently funded for years, and we're now seeing the tragic results in Flint and in other communities around the nation, including New Jersey," said Pallone. “The events in Flint and recent findings of lead at New Jersey schools reminds us that if we fail to properly invest in health and safety the consequences can be devastating. And, in many instances, it is far more costly if we wait until an emergency response is necessary to address these problems. We must act now to ensure Americans throughout the country do not suffer from these same problems. The AQUA Act devotes much-needed funding to local governments such as Perth Amboy, so they can repair and replace aging water systems to ensure people have access to safe and clean drinking water.”
“I am looking forward to working with Congressman Pallone to pursue resources that will improve our environment and our urban city’s water infrastructure across the State to promise only the best for our residents,” Mayor Diaz added.
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), the primary source of federal funding for drinking water infrastructure projects, was created by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996. Congress has neglected to reauthorize the program since its initial authorization expired in 2003. Because of this, the program remains in danger of being eliminated each year and is funded at an outdated and inappropriate 13-year old level. The Aqua Act reauthorizes the Drinking Water SRF for five years at higher levels in order to meet the growing needs gap. The first year of funding is aggressive, and is based on levels provided with passage of the Recovery Act in 2009, corrected for inflation ($3.13 billion). The authorization then increases by 15 percent annually going forward.
The legislation also establishes a grant program to assist public water systems in improving drinking water resiliency and sustainability. It prioritizes water systems that have been identified as being at the greatest risk of facing negative effects due to hydrological changes. In the face of climate change, drinking water infrastructure will need more financial assistance to invest in resiliency. The bill authorizes $50 million annually for the grant program for fiscal years 2017 through 2021.
Finally, the Aqua Act funds a grant program to remove lead service lines from public water systems. It authorizes $100 million annually for fiscal years 2017 through 2021 for the lead pipe replacement program with up to $10 million set aside to assist low-income homeowners replace privately owned lines. Lead pipes were banned 30 years ago, but there are an estimated 3.3 to 10 million still in service.
In February, Pallone led his colleagues in sending a letter to Cathleen Bennett, Acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDH), asking for more information on the federal funding the state receives to help detect dangerous levels of lead in communities. Pallone asked for information on exactly how these funds are used and if additional resources are needed to combat this serious public health challenge. The Christie administration has not responded to the letter.
Last month, Pallone sent letters to the New Jersey Department of Health and New Jersey Department of Human Services raising questions about the management of a program to provide lead poisoning screenings for pregnant women, children, and uninsured adults in counties impacted by Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey earmarked $11.7 million of funding for increasing access to blood lead screening and case management to address “new environmental hazards in New Jersey Homes” created by Hurricane Sandy. Yet, it appears that the state has only tested a fraction of the 220,000 individuals that it planned to screen annually for lead poisoning. As of December 2015 the state had only tested 14,150 individuals. The Christie administration has not responded to the letters.