President Joe Biden’s $2.7 trillion infrastructure plan has sparked criticism from Republicans over what kinds of projects should be included under the category of “infrastructure.”
Last week, CNN anchor Poppy Harlow put the question to the Senate’s Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who responded with an example from his home state of Illinois.
“Well, I can tell you, I do not exclude clean drinking water from the responsibilities of government and not only dealing with public health issues but creating jobs in America,” Durbin said. “And we have 23% of all the lead pipe leads in America in the Chicagoland area. You bet I want to clean up this water supply, and I consider that infrastructure.”
For decades, the city of Chicago required pipes connecting street water mains to individual properties to be made of the toxic metal. That ended when lead service lines were banned by the federal government in 1986, years after their use began to decline in many other places.
Biden’s proposal — dubbed the American Jobs Plan — seeks to eliminate lead pipes by allocating $45 billion to several U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programs.
So, we wondered if Chicago and its surrounding area really account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s lead pipes, as Durbin claimed.
Both Chicago and Illinois stand out, but national data is limited
While Chicago is unique when it comes to its number of known lead service lines, experts told us it’s tough to determine the accuracy of Durbin’s statistic because no national inventory exists.
“The vast majority of cities don’t know exactly how many lead service lines exist or where they are located,” said Maura Allaire, an assistant professor of water economics and environmental policy at the University of California, Irvine.
Durbin spokesman Joe LaPaille told us in an email that Durbin “misspoke on CNN and said ‘Chicago’ instead of Illinois.”
“However, Chicago does make up a large portion of lead service lines in Illinois, and has more lead service lines than any other city,” LaPaille said.
LaPaille said Durbin got his statistic using figures highlighted by the EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmentalist non-profit group that has pushed for Biden’s administration to expedite the removal of lead service lines.
The EPA’s website offers an estimated range for the number of lead service lines in the country: 6 to 10 million. Meanwhile, a press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council put the range for Illinois between 730,000 and 1.4 million. To get to 23%, Durbin took the…