Remarks by Vice President Harris on the Biden-⁠Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Good morning.  Have a seat.  Have a seat.  Good morning. 
Ms. Jackson, I want to thank you.  Your leadership is so inspiring, and the whole group of women and men and the community leaders that — that really have been a voice on these issues for so long.  For so long.  And you hold us to be accountable.  And I’m glad to say today we’re about to announce that we are taking that charge seriously and have heard you.  But please continue with your leadership because it’s so important.  So, thank you. 
And good morning, everyone.   It is great to be in the house of labor.  (Applause.)  Good morning.  (Laughs.)  Good morning.  And it’s so good to be here at the AFL-CIO.
You know, the last time I was in this building was in August, and it was early in the morning.  My husband, Doug, and I came here to pay our respects and say goodbye to the late, great Rich Trumka.  And as we all know, he was a man who lived and breathed solidarity.
And I remember that morning because we wanted to just come in and be lowkey.  And — and so we walked in the door and there was Liz Shuler.  And she greeted me with a big ole warm hug, and we talked that day about Rich’s legacy, about the tremendous mark he made and left on our nation.
And, Liz, we also talked about the future because that’s what I believe Rich would have wanted.  And we talked in a way that was not only the focus on what we have achieved, but we talked about what we still have yet to do.  And Liz knows
what we must do.
We have worked together for some time now, and I will tell you Liz knows we must protect the rights of workers
to organize and collectively bargain.  She knows we must
strengthen those rights.  She knows we cannot let up or ever accommodate any amount of progress.  We must stay vigilant.  And she knows that the Biden-Harris administration will always stand in solidarity with the American labor movement.  (Applause.) 
So you all know, and the President and I have been clear: We are determined and we are proud say, perhaps sometimes with a bit of bravado, that we will be the most pro-labor union administration in America’s history — (applause) — and we are proud of that.  And we are proud of that.
And it’s for good reason.  Because we’re clear: When union wages go up, everybody’s wages go up.  When union jobs are safer, our communities are safer.  And when union members
go to work, they go to work for all of us.  They teach our students and care for our patients.  They lay broadband lines
and manufacture electric vehicles.  And union members
replace lead pipes –- (applause) — which is what brings me here today.
Over the years, I have traveled around the country and I have met many parents to talk about this very issue –- so many parents –- parents who are worried that every time they turned on the faucet to get their child a glass of water, that they may be filling that glass with poison; parents who worry, as they make breakfast in the morning or in the evening help their children to brush their teeth, that they are exposing their children to something that could harm them.
 And the science is clear about what drinking water from a lead pipe can do to the human body.  For adults, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and decrease kidney function.  For children, it can severely harm mental and physical development.  It can stunt growth, slow down learning, and cause irreparable damage to the brain.
So, the bottom line is that there is no reason in the 21st century for why people are still exposed to this substance that was poisoning people back in the 18th century.  There is no good reason. 
But here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day.  As many as 24 million housing units in our country contain substantial amounts of lead paint.  As many as 10 million households get their water through lead pipes and service lines, and so do up to 400,000 schools and childcare facilities.
Let’s just reflect on that.  In one of the most advanced nations in the world, this is happening right now in our country.  In areas around our country, children are drinking
from water fountains fed by lead pipes.  They’re sleeping
in bedrooms coated with lead paint.
And as a result, today, more than half of children under six in our country are at risk of lead exposure.
And I’m going to repeat that: More than half of the children in America who are under the age of six are at risk of lead exposure.
So, it’s not right, obviously, and we cannot let this stand any longer.  Lead exposure in our nation is an emergency, we should all agree, is something we can do something about.
And so, that is why our administration is releasing the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan.  And that’s a nice, fancy name.  You know, we have these long names.  Mayor, you know that.  Mitch Landrieu is here. 
But it is an action plan.  So, the action is to direct and coordinate the efforts of local, state, and federal partners to a single goal: to significantly accelerate the removal of lead pipes and paint over the next 10 years, particularly in communities that have historically been left out and left behind.
So, this action plan — the action will be historic in proportion and nature.  It will build on the historic progress of our administration that we’ve made over the last year to protect our communities from lead exposure.
Last month, thanks to the support of so many in this room, so many extraordinary leaders –- I wish I could just name everybody by name –- because of you, not only what you did leading up to January, but what you’ve done your entire lives and then what you have helped us to do in this town and around the country, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal is now the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law because of you — because of you.  (Applause.) 
And our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest $15 billion in replacing lead service pipes and lines throughout our country.
As part of our action plan, the EPA — where is Michael? — he’s coming up next, I think — the EPA — he’s behind the curtain — is announcing that it will allocate $2.9 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for funding for states and Tribes and territories for lead service line replacement in the year 2022.
And it is also making clear that the remaining funds for states and local governments provided through the American Rescue Plan can be used to replace lead service lines.  So, just like they are already doing in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and Syracuse and Duluth — this is the work that we will continue to do around the country.
And as we replace lead service lines and upgrade our water infrastructure, we are not only doing work that is good and important, we are also creating jobs.  And we are creating good union jobs — good union jobs.  (Applause.) 
Because here’s the thing that everybody in this room knows, but I’ll speak to the press that’s back there: The significance of good union jobs is not only what I’ve already talked about in terms of what that means in raising the standards by which we recognize the dignity of work and the importance of that work, but this is also about uplifting highly skilled folks — highly
skilled.  They train.  They’re in apprenticeship programs.  They study to do this work because this work is not only important, it’s complicated.  It takes great skill. 
And so that’s what we’re talking about — those kinds of jobs.  And you know that my first stop after the President signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was in Columbus, Ohio.  And when I was in Columbus, I went to meet with members of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 189.  And the apprentices there — they showed me the training tools they use to do their trade and how they learn on those tools — the welding tools, the fitting tools.  And they talked with real excitement about the jobs this law will create — jobs for carpenters and plumbers, jobs in small towns and big cities, jobs that cannot be outsourced. 
And because the pipes and paint that need replacing are right here, the work that we are doing to cultivate and to support this workforce is right here. 
And friends, the economic benefits of removing lead pipes and paint do not stop with job creation.  It is that and it is more.  Lead poisoning cost our nation billions of dollars.  High lead levels in communities correlate — just think about it — to higher healthcare costs, lower earnings, and, therefore, lower tax revenues.  All of this is related.
In fact, for every dollar we spend on lead remediation, our communities get at least $3 back.  One dollar for three.  I was with a bunch of CEOs the other day — they like to talk about return on investment.  This is a really good return on investment.
And here’s the truth: There are certain communities that are harder hit by lead poisoning than others.  So, let’s talk about that also.  When some communities learn that there is lead in their homes or in their schools, if they have the resources or the influence, then action is taken. 
However, so often for poor communities, rural communities, communities of color, that does not happen.  And I’ve seen this dynamic play out for so many years on so many issues of environmental justice. 
And so, in fact, when I served as District Attorney of San Francisco, back in 2005, I created the first environmental justice unit.  For those of you who know the Bay Area in California, you’ll know there’s a place called Bayview-Hunters Point, where the community at the time had an annual household income of about $15,000 — one-five. 
And then, no surprise, there were many issues that affected that community, including dumping.  People would just go there — they would treat it like a dumping site, as though families and children were not there.
And I saw firsthand how this work that they were doing — it basically — how they became dumping grounds, how that resulted in environmental hazards and havens for pollution.  And so, I created the first environmental justice unit to go after polluters and to protect the health of all of our communities.
Because, by the way, my approach was — some may not want to hear this — the people who are dumping in those communities need to be held accountable by a prosecutor. 
And so, that was the work that we did many, many years ago.  And then there is the work that we did most recently when I was in the U.S. Senate, knowing that children were getting sick from water that came from the tap and that these children are often from communities that were being left behind.  So, we introduced legislation to put emergency funds toward the replacement of toxic drinking water infrastructure in communities that were being disproportionately harmed.
Our administration, the Biden-Harris administration, is committed to investing in all communities, especially those that have long been overlooked and underserved.  We must target investments toward communities that are at a higher risk of exposure to lead pipes and paint.
And to that end, our Build Back Better Act will allocate $9 billion in lead remediation in low-income communities, Native communities and communities of color, as well as for schools and childcare facilities.  It would also invest nearly $1 billion to address lead hazards in rural communities.
I will conclude with this: The challenge that we face is, without any question, great.  Lead is built into our cities, it is laid under our roads, and it is installed in our homes. 
And that is why we decided to launch this action plan here in this house of labor — because unions know how to do great things. 
And it is right there in the original model of the AFL-CIO: “Labor conquers all.”  So we need your help to conquer these challenges.  We need your help to make millions of homes, schools, and workplaces safe for everyone.  And we need your help to make sure this is the beginning of the end for lead in America. 
So, let us get to work.  Thank you all.  May God bless you.  And may God bless America.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.