$3 billion for lead pipe replacement EPA sent to states based on unverified data, watchdog says

The Environmental Protection Agency distributed about $3 billion to states last year to replace harmful lead pipes, based on unverified data, according to a memo from the agency’s inspector general, meaning probably some states received too much money and others not enough.

Investigators found that two states had submitted inaccurate data, the memo dated Wednesday said. He did not name the states. The EPA has since made changes, but the inspector general said the agency could do more.

“Insufficient internal controls to verify data led to allocations that did not represent each State’s needs, and if nothing is done, the Agency runs the risk of using unreliable data for future spending. “infrastructure,” said EPA Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell. .


The agency said it disagreed with several aspects of the inspector general’s memo, saying its lead pipe estimate was the best available and the right way to allocate funds to states . The agency also said it has safeguards in place to ensure the money is spent correctly.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill included $15 billion to research and replace lead pipes over five years. These pipes are especially common in the Midwest and Northeast and are typically found in older homes. Lead can lower children’s IQs and delay their development. It is also linked to higher blood pressure in adults.

To distribute funds based on the number of lead pipes states had, the EPA requested estimates from states and utilities. Then, in April 2023, the agency announced the results — there are about 9.2 million lead pipes nationwide — and adjusted its funding formula.

A contractor works on a leaking lead service line before service line replacement on April 10, 2023. The EPA said it disagreed with a memo from a state inspector general he agency claiming that inaccurate data was used to allocate funds to states for lead pipe replacement. . (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Tom Neltner, national director of Unleaded Kids, said two states — Texas and Florida — had much higher totals than expected in these estimates. Florida ultimately received the most funding of any state in 2023: $254.8 million after an initial estimate of nearly 1.2 million lead pipes.

“By submitting exaggerated information, it takes money away from states that actually need it,” he said.

Texas and Florida did not immediately respond to messages left with their governor’s offices and the Florida Department of Environmental Quality.

The Biden administration has prioritized providing clean drinking water to all. Earlier this year, the EPA proposed a rule that would require most cities and towns to replace all their lead pipes within a decade. It also placed limits on “permanent chemicals” in drinking water.

Republicans have repeatedly attacked the Biden administration’s spending on climate and environmental priorities, calling it a giveaway to left-wing causes without enough accountability.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General is evaluating federal funding for lead pipe replacement and has already been in contact with agency officials about some of their concerns. The inspector general plans to release a final report in the fall when it identifies each state’s inaccuracies.

The inspector general found that a state water supplier had sent incorrect information to the agency and that “adjustments made by another state” had also been submitted.

The agency said it “did an enormous amount of quality assurance work,” disagreeing with the inspector general’s assertions that their efforts were unsuccessful. Federal officials reviewed local estimates of lead pipes, rejecting those they deemed inadequate.

Even before the inspector general’s memo was released, some states had already complained to the EPA that its funding decisions were not fair.

“We have serious concerns about the quality of the data relied upon by EPA,” said a February letter to the EPA from Massachusetts officials.

In early May, EPA adjusted its funding allocation for 2024, based on new information received from utilities. President Biden announced the funding during a stop in Wilmington, North Carolina. Texas’ funding has fallen the most; its $146.2 million was reduced by about $117.6 million. Florida saw the second largest reduction, with a reduction of $26.1 million. Eight other states or territories saw more modest reductions.

Nineteen states received more money, led by Minnesota with an additional $48.7 million and New Jersey with an additional $40.1 million.

Neltner said the EPA deserves credit for collecting additional information to improve the accuracy of funding awarded.

The $15 billion is only a fraction of the total amount needed to replace all of the nation’s lead pipes. Erik Olson, a health and food expert with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said some states’ exaggerated estimates can direct a lot of money to the wrong place.

“I’ll just say it’s suspicious,” he said.

Olson said the onus is on water utilities and states to submit accurate information. But the EPA also deserves blame “for not verifying some of these numbers,” he said.

When the agency first started doling out money, some states like Michigan had a long list of projects to fund. Others are not so far along and must first spend money on inventory to find their lead pipes. A small number of states even refused funding in the first year it was offered to them.

If states don’t spend all their money, it is reallocated to states that need it most.


Neltner fears that if states receive more money than they need, they will spend it on costly stockpiles of lead pipes, not replacement efforts.

John Rumpler, director of clean water at the environmental group Environment America, said the important question is how well states are using the money they are given to replace lead pipes.

“Even if all that money was perfectly allocated,” he said. “It would not remove all lead pipes.”