Let them drink lead
April 19, 2017
The state’s largest business group says it opposes bipartisan bills that would help Wisconsin residents get rid of lead water pipes, which can contaminate people’s drinking water.
The measures, Assembly Bill 78 and Senate Bill 48, sponsored by GOP Sen. Rob Cowles, of Green Bay, and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, of Fond du Lac, would allow local water utilities to make grants or cheap loans to help homeowners remove lead water service pipes from the curb to their homes. Currently, state law allows water utilities to only replace pipes from the street to a homeowner’s property line. The average cost to replace a water pipe between a curb and a house is about $3,600.
Cowles and other backers of the bills say it would take decades for all of the state’s cities to complete the job if they had to pay for it because most municipalities are short on funds, in part because the GOP-dominated legislature and Gov. Scott Walker have imposed limits on local tax revenues.
WMC, which is the only special interest group on record opposing the bills, is a political heavyweight when it comes to state policy and spending. The group has spent more than $18 million since 2010 on undisclosed, outside electioneering activities to support Republican and conservative legislative and statewide candidates. But because of the power of WMC, the bills may not get to the floor. Lucas Webber, WMC’s director of environmental energy policy testified against them. He is the former policy director and deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
The bills have drawn support from about four dozen Democratic and Republican legislators, and from about 20 lobbying groups representing public health officials, medical professionals, environmental groups, cities, and the real estate industry.
As reporter Steve Verburg wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal, the dangers of lead in the water are extreme. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says there is no safe blood lead level in children. Tiny lead particles that flake off into running water can accumulate in the body to cause irreversible brain damage to young children.”
The presence of lead in drinking water has been known for decades, but awareness increased across the country in 2015 due to a public health crisis in Flint, Mich. caused by high lead levels in the city’s drinking water system.