Cory Booker Proposed a $50 Billion Fund to Get Rid of All Our Lead Pipes

Senator Cory Booker
Senator Cory Booker
Photo: Getty

Senator Cory Booker’s got his eye on the White House, but the Democratic presidential candidate’s roots stretch back to the suburbs of Newark, New Jersey. This city is now facing a massive water crisis as lead leaches into its water supply. In his newly released climate plan on Tuesday, Booker vows to prevent such a disaster from ever happening again in Newark and cities around the U.S.

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While Booker’s touches on several points related to climate change, including a $3 trillion plan to decarbonize the economy by 2045 and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, the plan’s true gem is its attention to environmental justice. It’s the first point Booker raises in the document, and he’s proposing developing an Environmental Justice Fund to make it happen.

Booker would commit $50 billion a year into the fund, which would focus on eliminating all lead service lines in schools, daycares, and residential buildings. Schools or residential units that suffer from lead contamination can depend on that fund to help pay for any work to clean them up.

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The fund will also, however, focus on ensuring all homes have access to wastewater disposal systems. In the U.S., some 600,000 households in rural parts of the country are still without basic water and sanitation services, according to a 2015 Rural Community Assistance Partnership report. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, even highlighted this issue in his 2017 report breaking down his investigation into extreme poverty in the U.S. Booker is promising to solve that in this plan.

To lead the fund, Booker wants to create a White House Advisor for Environmental Justice, which would be a the first of its kind position. This person would lead the fund’s advisory council, which would be responsible for any actions it takes or programs it finances.

Getting $50 billion a year dedicated to environmental justice won’t be easy relying solely on Congress. Booker, though, has some other ideas for how to raise revenue for his whole plan, including getting polluters to pay their fair share and ending fossil fuel subsidies and using executive authority.

Regardless, the environmental justice fund is still something to celebrate. Cleaning up pollution and shutting down pipelines isn’t always the sexiest topic when it comes to climate change, but it’s all connected. Climate change comes from our consumption of fossil fuels, which are usually produced and extracted closest to communities of color and low-income communities. When natural disasters strike as a result of this imbalance our planet faces, the poorest and brownest are often the first to feel their impacts—and the least equipped to deal with it all.

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Environmental justice deserves more attention in the presidential race. Candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Sanders, Julián Castro, and even Joe Biden have mentioned the topic in their plans, but the establishment of a presidential fund is unprecedented. For communities surrounded by Superfund sites and forced to deal with outdated infrastructure, such a fund could go a long way.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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According to EPA there’s somewhere between 5.5 million and 7.1 million lead service lines across the US, with a best guess of 6.1 million.

Let’s do the math.

$50 billion divided by 6.1 million equals $8,200 per line.

The average cost for lead service line replacement is around $5,000. So there’s about $3,200 in soft cost per line. Each line replacement crew will have a dedicated environmental justice site manager to pound trenching subs - but nicely.

From the American Water Works Association (AWWA):

National Survey of Lead Service Line Occurrence

Comment section picture time (from report linked above):

EPA regions on the US map:

Most of the lead service lines are in the red states of regions 5 and 7. Those are also key electoral college states. Or more than half the lead service lines are in the Midwest. Not a bad idea for a campaign policy proposal.

Number of lead service lines per EPA region:

In the AWWA report there’s a graph of number of lead service lines per state. I figured two pictures is already way too many.