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Here’s where Michigan 2018 governor candidates stand on lead pipes

August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor
August 2018 update: Bill Schuette wins Republican nod for Michigan governor

Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing for major reforms to rules governing lead water pipes in Michigan.

It would be expensive, requiring some utilities to replace all of their lead service lines within 20 years and lower the threshold for how much lead regulators will accept in water. It would also significantly tighten testing standards, among other major changes.

Related: Even after Flint, lead-free water lines may be a pipe dream in Michigan
Related: Reforms going nowhere to require Michigan schools to test water for lead​

Even if the proposal becomes final, Snyder won’t be around long to see if carried out. He’s term-limited and in his final year in office. So what do those vying to replace think about Snyder’s proposal? Or do they have their own plans?

Bridge Magazine asked eight candidates for governor, four Republicans and four Democrats. Their responses are edited for clarity and length.


Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

Via email:

“Lt. Gov. Calley supports the proposed changes in the lead and copper rule and setting a timetable for pipe replacement. Water systems with higher lead risks should be prioritized, so while 20 years is a reasonable overall goal, the state should work with communities on implementation. (Calley) chaired the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board that developed ambitious plans to eliminate lead exposure - and not just in water infrastructure.”

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck

via email:

Your questions involve important issues, but this stage in the campaign Patrick wants to focus on the issues voters are asking about most:  jobs, taxes, roads and healthcare. Over the next six weeks, he’ll be participating in six town halls with candidates Jim Hines and Brian Calley fielding questions about all topics including environmental issues.”

Dr. Jim Hines

Via interview:

“I don’t live that far from Flint and have dozens of patients who were pregnant and drinking contaminated water,” said Hines, an obstetrician.

He said Snyder’s proposal would put Michigan at a “competitive disadvantage” because it would lower the state’s lead action level below the federal standard, which Hines said he would maintain.

“The bottom line is, the lead lines that need to be replaced are being replacing very slowly.” The state needs to figure out how to speed up the process and pay for it, he said.

Should utilities bear the cost of replacing the private side of service lines, as Snyder has proposed? “If I were to ask who owns those, the answer is 100 percent the homeowner owns them...It’s the homeowner's responsibility to change them out.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette

Did not respond.


Bill Cobbs, Democrat

Via email:

“Flint ... demonstrates the ticking time bomb that we are sitting on as a state. Now if we examine a city like Detroit, which has over 120,000 lead service lines that are aging and most likely suffering the ravages of age, we don’t just have a problem. We have a catastrophe in the making”.

“A failure in Detroit along the lines of Flint would impact every community within a 50-mile radius. I have a plan to launch a $60 billion infrastructure replacement program that would take us from one side of the state to the other. It will be an expensive undertaking however putting it off only raises the danger and the ultimate price tag.

Cobbs said he would fund the effort by approving a constitutional amendment that would “move from a flat 4.25 percent (income) tax rate to a progressive tax.” The income tax would stay the same for families making $200,000 or less per year, but increase to up to 10 percent on higher earners.

Abdul El-Sayed, Democrat

Via interview:

“We need to go a step further,” he said of Snyder’s proposal. “The science says really there is no level of lead that is safe for human consumption or any other circumstances.”

Replacing all lead service lines within 20 years is “fair,” he said, but El-Sayed would favor lowering the “action level” for lead in water from 15 parts per billion to 5 ppb (Snyder’s proposal would lower it to 10 ppb).  “The science is headed in that direction.”

[Editor’s note: After Bridge conducted this interview, Snyder tweaked his proposal. It originally required water systems to replace all their lead lines within 20 years (5 percent each year)— regardless of what lead test show. Now, the requirement would be triggered only when a system’s 90th percentile test results hit 5 ppb.)

El-Sayed said he would use his bully pulpit as governor to seek help from the federal government.

“It’s about money. If this is not a state and national priority in the aftermath of the state water crisis, I don’t know what is.”  

Shri Thanedar

Via email:

“People were poisoned in Flint. Our government was complicit. Worse, no steps were taken to rectify the problem until it became a national news story. Governor Snyder’s bottom-line, cost-cutting canon allowed this to happen, and we must do everything possible to ensure a tragedy like what happened in Flint never happens again in Michigan. It is going to be expensive, and this is why the lines in Flint were not replaced originally, but it is a government’s job to ensure the health and safety of its citizens, and we must do so. Instead of partisan soundbites, we need compassion in Lansing; we need action, and we need leadership. Anything that can be done to replace this lines as quickly as possible, so not one more Michigander is poisoned, must be done.”

Gretchen Whitmer

Via email: 

"The Flint water crisis is an unforgettable failure of government at every level. Above all, the people of Michigan should be able to trust that the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink, cook with, and bathe in. Lowering the lead and copper rule to 10 ppb is a start, but shouldn’t be the end goal because we need to limit exposure to lead as much as possible in communities across Michigan. Frankly, efforts to expedite the process of replacing lead lines should have happened years ago. Michigan should be a worldwide leader in water policy, not scurrying to catch up to be just a little better than the bare minimum requires."

Related: Michigan's Great Lakes are good, but water concerns include lead and Line 5
Related: Michigan needs $4B more per year for infrastructure, but how to pay for it?

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