Bills of Note: Leading on Lead

Sen. Cowles (R – Green Bay) and Rep. Thiesfeldt (R – Fond du Lac) recently introduced SB 48/AB 78, called “Leading on Lead Act.” The bill has received significant bipartisan support, with a total of 47 co-sponsors supporting the authors’ efforts.

The bill allows water utilities to provide financial assistance to remove private lead laterals. Under the bill, a municipality is required to pass an ordinance allowing the water utility to provide financial assistance. In addition, it will require the PSC to include the cost of the financial assistance in the determination of water rates.

On Wednesday, March 8, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held a public hearing on SB 48. Sen. Cowles, the committee chairman and author, provided opening comments, highlighting the health risks of lead exposure and how this legislation aims to give communities the tools to create their own “local solutions.”

In Wisconsin, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that at least 176,000 lead service lines connect homes to the municipal water mains.

Representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health Services provided testimony to describe how the state agencies are addressing lead pipe issues. Other legislators, local government officials, water utilities, the Wisconsin Realtor Association and a physician/researcher from the University of Wisconsin testified in favor of the legislation.

Water utility representatives explained how this bill will help them to assist property owners with replacement of their private lead service lines through a financial assistance program, like a loan or grant. Removing both sides of the lateral, the utility owned and privately owned, is key to eliminating lead in the water. Water utilities also pointed out, that complete removal of the lead service line will also reduce and eventually potentially eliminate the amount of corrosion control chemicals that are added to the water.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy has not scheduled a vote on the bill. The Assembly companion bill, AB 78 was referred to the Committee on Energy and Utilities. A public hearing in that committee has not been scheduled.