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UPDATE: Biden Shares Details On National Lead Pipe Funding At Wilmington Talk

By Audrey Elsberry, posted May 2, 2024
President Joe Biden speaks Thursday at the Wilmington Convention Center, announcing funding for replacing lead pipes nationally. (Photo by Audrey Elsberry)
President Joe Biden visited Wilmington on Thursday afternoon to announce a $3 billion project to replace lead pipes and paint throughout the country, with $76 million going to North Carolina. 

“The only way forward is to replace every lead service line that connects Americans who need water,” Biden said during his address to the couple hundred audience members at the Wilmington Convention Center Expo Hall on Thursday. “That's why (Vice President) Kamala (Harris) and I are making sure the administration is the first ever set out to do it and we're going to get it done.”

Paris Pugh, a second-grade teacher from Bradley Creek Elementary School, introduced Biden to the crowd. She was one of the administrators who met with Biden during Thursday’s visit due to the replacement of a water fountain at Bradley Creek Elementary "with high levels of lead" with funding from his American Rescue Plan, according to a statement earlier in the day from the White House.

Biden added a stop in Charlotte on his way to Wilmington on Thursday to meet with the families of police officers killed in the line of duty during a standoff on Monday. Biden began his talk by mentioning the fallen Charlotte police officers and the dangers of gun violence.

He moved on to say his latest announcement in infrastructure funding provides access to a basic human right: clean drinking water. 

"Lead service lines pose severe health risks damaging the brain and kidneys, in children especially, they stunt growth, slow learning and cause lasting brain damage," Biden said. "We know we can stop it, we know how to do it."

The morning of Biden’s visit, the White House issued a news release announcing the reason for Biden’s visit. (Read more about those details here.)

Prior to Biden taking the podium, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan addressed the crowd, rousing excitement. Regan spoke about traveling to Fayetteville in April and announcing the EPA’s new regulations

“President Biden is keeping his promises,” Regan said. 

Regan commended Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo for “staring down the water quality challenges that Wilmington has faced for a number of years.” 

“There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, period.” Ragen said “We owe it to our children; we owe it to our future.”

This is the president’s fourth visit to North Carolina in the past four months, said Gov. Roy Cooper, who also spoke at the convention center. 

“We wouldn’t have this money without the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and we wouldn’t have the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law without President Joe Biden,” Cooper said. 


In 2024, you should get clean water, Cooper said, pointing to his experience mitigating GenX and PFAS

“We needed help from the federal government,” Cooper said, referring to PFAS contamination. “So, we called Washington again, and again, and under the previous administration, those calls were not answered.”

In the days leading up to Biden’s visit, the New Hanover County Democrat Party announced he would likely speak about environmental issues and infrastructure. 

The $3 billion investment in lead pipe replacement is to be issued through the Environmental Protection Agency. The funding is part of $15 billion dedicated to replacing lead pipes nationwide through Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Biden's $3 billion Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which is part of his Investing in America agenda, would be administered through the EPA, which announced a $3 billion Clean Ports Program in Wilmington in February. The agency returned to the Cape Fear River basin in April to announce its first national regulation on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority will likely apply for the $76 million allotted to the state to continue replacing old, galvanized service lines, said CFPUA spokesperson Vaughn Hagerty. 

CFPUA announced it helped secure nearly $4.2 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding in 2023, according to an announcement Thursday morning. The more than $4 million is the largest dollar amount among the 30 North Carolina communities awarded such funds from the N.C. Division of Water Infrastructure, the announcement states. 
 
"To date, no lead service lines have been found in the CFPUA system," the announcement stated.
 
The $4 million will be used to replace about 300 galvanized service lines that the CFUPA suspects to have lead "gooseneck" connectors, according to CFPUA officials. Work to replace these connectors began in February.

Biden’s visit to Wilmington comes weeks after former President Donald Trump postponed his rally at the Aero Center on the Wilmington International Airport property on April 20.

The Republican presidential candidate postponed the outdoor rally due to the threat of severe weather.  During his announcement, Trump indicated he would reschedule the Wilmington rally "very quickly."
 
“I’m so sorry," he said, "but we’ll do it again, and we’ll do it bigger and better."

As a "purple" political state, North Carolina with relatively equal numbers of Republican and Democrat voters, the state an important battleground for the two candidates this presidential election year.

Within North Carolina, New Hanover County is a "true bellwether," the New Hanover County Democrat Party wrote. 

Although the visit was not a campaign event, Biden pointed to his opponent in November.

“My predecessor promised infrastructure week, every single week for four years,” Biden said about Trump. “You didn't build a damn thing.”

He criticized the Trump administration, saying it rolled back wetland protections and slashed the EPA’s programs while providing tax cuts to the wealthy, Biden said.

Messages to the New Hanover County GOP were not returned Thursday.
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