WASHINGTON, D.C. – Late yesterday, the Senate unanimously voted to pass legislation authored by New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez that could help communities across the country, including Newark, remove lead from drinking water. Specifically, the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act would give states facing public health crises from lead in drinking water the flexibility to make a one-time transfer of the federal funds in their Clean Water State Revolving Fund to their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for projects that will remove lead from drinking water.
New Jersey would be able to utilize this change by transferring up to $100 million in federal funds from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to offset some of the $120 million bonding project to replace lead service lines in Newark. This flexibility would also allow the State to provide assistance to other municipalities in New Jersey to address the threat of lead in drinking water.
“Elevated levels of lead in our drinking water demonstrate our country’s failure to invest in aging infrastructure,” Senator Booker, who lives in Newark, said. “Right now, some states, including my home state of New Jersey, have federal funds available but are restricted from using them to address lead in drinking water. This legislation would give New Jersey the flexibility to supplement Newark’s bonding package and provide immediate assistance to Newark residents.”
“Residents of Newark, including myself, are counting on the federal government to remedy this environmental injustice and I thank my Senate colleagues from both parties for taking this issue seriously,” Booker added. “I hope the House will quickly take up this legislation so states like New Jersey can address the threat of lead in drinking water.”
Booker will speak later today on the Senate Floor about how this legislation could help states like New Jersey get lead out of drinking water.
"The federal government has a duty and an obligation to ensure that each family in New Jersey and across our country has access to safe and clean drinking water,” Senator Menendez said. “Many of our communities are grappling with the challenges of aging water infrastructure in dire need of an upgrade. This legislation allows New Jersey to tap much needed federal funding to address the current situation of elevated lead levels in Newark and other surrounding communities. Giving states that added flexibility allows them to more quickly, efficiently and effectively respond to residents’ needs. I am proud to work with Senator Booker in not just fighting for the critical resources New Jersey needs, but holding those federal agencies accountable for ensuring the health and well-being of our residents.”
“Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right, but states and municipalities can’t upgrade our nation’s aging water infrastructure alone,” Governor Murphy said. “I’ve been calling on the federal government to help with the efforts to replace lead service lines in communities across New Jersey. I applaud Senator Booker and Senator Menendez for getting this bill passed so more federal dollars can help Newark and other New Jersey cities. I know the whole New Jersey delegation will now work to get this legislation passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law.”
“The City of Newark is doing everything we can to replace service lines and achieve a permanent solution for Newark families,” Mayor Baraka said. “This federal legislation could lessen our debt load while replacing every service line in the city, at no cost to homeowners. It is great news for Newark and for any city that is working to invest in their water infrastructure and protect their communities.”
Since an engineering study was released in October 2018 finding that lead was leaching into Newark’s drinking water because of ineffective corrosion treatment at one of the City’s water treatment plants, Booker has worked tirelessly in the Senate to help the city get the federal resources it needs to fix the problem. In December, Booker urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to include this measure he authored to provide a source of funding for Newark in a 2018 end-of-year spending bill. The measure wasn’t included in that spending deal, so Booker introduced the measure as a stand-alone bill in May and pushed its passage through the Environment and Public Works Committee, which he sits on, in June. The Committee filed a written report on the bill in July 2019.
Also in June, Booker worked to include the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was moving through the Senate, but it was blocked by Republicans. Booker then worked to “hot-line” the bill for Senate passage before Congress broke for recess in early August, but the effort was again blocked by Republicans. Bills can be “hot-lined” for passage, which means they do not need to come to a vote on the Senate floor, if no Senator raises objections to the bill.
Since additional serious concerns over the lead in drinking water in Newark were reported in August, Booker has aggressively and repeatedly pushed the federal government to provide more resources for the city. He has helped pass out bottled water to affected residents and he met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 Administrator Peter Lopez to discuss EPA’s duty and on-the-ground efforts in Newark. He also—along with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ) – urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help administer lead blood screenings for affected residents in Newark. That request followed a separate letter, Booker sent with New Jersey lawmakers urging the USDA to offer additional assistance to serve the immediate needs of Newark residents by making temporary changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC). The lawmakers also sent a letter to the EPA urging it to assist state and local efforts to deliver safe drinking water to Newark residents.