Greg Sargent breaks down Hillary Clinton's proposal to replace America's lead pipes and lead paint in five years, a plan that even I think is borderline Bernie Sanders unicorn territory.
The details are here: The proposal on lead in particular includes a promise to establish a Presidential Commission on Childhood Lead Exposure, which would be charged with “writing a national plan to eliminate the risk of lead exposure from paint, pipes, and soil within five years.” It also includes a vow to push for $5 billion to implement the commission’s recommendations, to “replace lead paint, windows, and doors in homes, schools, and child care centers and remediate lead-contaminated soil.” It also references a separate $275 billion plan for infrastructure modernization that includes “drinking and wastewater infrastructure.”
Public health problems such as this one historically attract widespread notice when there are glaringly awful outbreaks of it that command media and public attention, such as the one in Flint, Michigan. But in fact, a national effort along the lines of the one Clinton is suggesting has long been sought by advocates for reform — because this remains a national problem that afflicts other cities and localities, too. As the New York Times recently put it:
By the most recent estimate, about 37 million homes and apartments still have some lead paint on walls and woodwork, 23 million with potentially hazardous levels of lead in soil, paint chips or household dust.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that four million of those most dangerous households have children. A half-million children — in Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Allentown, Pa., where a remarkable 23.1 percent of children tested had excessive lead — are believed to have enough lead in their blood to merit a doctor’s attention.
“We know that there are many kids across the country that have high lead levels in their bodies — testing kids identifies exposure that you can’t do anything about,” Jerome Paulson, an emeritus professor of public health and pediatrics at George Washington University and a longtime advocate for cleaning up the lead threat, tells me. The goal, he says, should be to “proactively identify the old housing and lead pipes and take care of them.”
“There will never be no kids in the U.S. with some adverse lead exposure, but we can certainly make it a much smaller problem than we have to date,” Paulson continues.
Successful national efforts have been made, such as the elimination of lead in gasoline, which was “extremely successful in reducing child lead exposure,” but “there’s never been a proactive federal approach to lead based paint poisoning or lead poisoning from the use of lead pipes for water,” Paulson says.
It wouldn’t be easy, to put it mildly, and Clinton’s proposal raises a host of questions. Among them would be how this commission would go about identifying the lead threat throughout the country and assembling all that knowledge in one place, Paulson says. Another would be how such policies would be implemented — Clinton stops short of proposing a legislative solution, though she doesn’t rule one out.
Considering national infrastructure spending would again have to get through a Republican House, the same Republican House that went down to the wire just to pay for the roads we already have and had to be dragged kicking and screaming by President Obama to pass, and only then after the GOP cut $170 billion from the original proposal, fixing lead pipes seems almost impossible.
Hell, this is the same GOP Congress that won't authorize any funding for fighting the Zika virus, something that could drastically affect unborn children that Republicans are always screaming about. You think Clinton could get funding to help places like Flint fix their lead pipes with taxpayer money?
Not going to happen. I appreciate Clinton actually trying to fix the problem, it's more than you'll ever see from Republicans, but you'd better believe the howling tea party austerity nutjobs won't authorize a dime for a Democratic president to fix infrastructure.