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Charles S.
Democrat NY

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  • Community Fire Safety Act

    by Senator Charles E. Schumer

    Posted on 2013-12-17

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    SCHUMER. I ask unanimous consent the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of H.R. 3588, which is at the desk.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the bill by title.

    The bill clerk read as follows: A bill (H.R. 3588) to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to exempt fire hydrants from the prohibition on the use of lead pipes, fittings, fixtures, solder, and flux.

    [[Page S8900]] There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the bill.

    Mr. SCHUMER. I ask unanimous consent that the bill be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    The bill (H.R. 3588) was ordered to a third reading, was read the third time, and passed.

    Mr. SCHUMER. To go over what happened, this is on behalf of myself and Senator Toomey. It is a bipartisan bill.

    There was a recently released Environmental Protection Agency interpretation of a law that could cost local governments, municipalities, and taxpayers across the country millions of dollars and undermine public safety.

    It is a classic case of the Federal bureaucracy and restriction harming our local communities and their budgets. No one would believe this, but it is about one of the most basic functions of government-- fire hydrants.

    Almost 3 years ago, Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, legislation with an admirable goal, a goal that is spelled out right in the name, and the law is set to be implemented on January 4, 2014.

    As we know, Congress intended for this law to direct the EPA to make rules that would keep our drinking water safe from coming into contact with lead-based parts. Congress did that and EPA exempted parts in bathtubs and showers that don't have direct impact on the quality of the drinking water, such as the knobs, the hot and cold knobs. Of course, the faucets would be under the law.

    But at the end of October, suddenly, the EPA released a new interpretation of the law that for the first time put fire hydrants under the new standard set by law, meaning everyone needs to buy and install new and upgraded fire hydrants that contain less lead.

    It took everyone by surprise. Only a small fraction of fire hydrants are ever used for drinking water. Even when they are, lead poisoning is associated with long-term exposure, which does not occur on the occasions when someone might drink from a hydrant.

    While that surprising rule was announced at the end of October, the EPA expects all new fire hydrants installed after January 4 to be of this new reduced-lead standard. No manufacturer can make fire hydrants that quickly. If the interpretation stands, cities and county water authorities would be forced to throw out hundreds of hydrants now in stock, wasting millions of dollars and passing that waste on to consumers in terms of rate hikes. At the same time, there would be no new hydrants they could install when a fire hydrant malfunctioned, when it was run over by a car in an accident or when a snowplow knocked it down.

    We are pleased this legislation we have just passed--my colleague from Pennsylvania and I--will now exempt fire hydrants from the reduced lead standard, just as bathtub and shower pieces that don't have contact with the water are exempt.

    Simply put, the EPA's interpretation of reduced lead standards unnecessarily imposed a huge burden on municipalities and first responders without any discernible safety benefit. We have now undone that danger.

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