Peduto Blames Harrisburg For Delay Of Lead-Related Bills In City Council

Jul 11, 2017

For the fourth week in a row, Pittsburgh City Council will not discuss a pair of lead-related bills at its committee meeting this week.

One of the bills would require home sellers to disclose the presence of lead plumbing, while the other would authorize the city to perform replacements of private lead service lines.

Mayor Bill Peduto called the latter bill a “convoluted” solution to the lead line replacement problem. Leaders in Harrisburg have effectively abandoned a bill introduced in May by Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42) that would have authorized the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to do full lead line replacements.

The lead line replacement bill is "a secondary measure to be taken if we don’t get the action we need in Harrisburg,” Peduto said.

PWSA halted a short-lived program of partial lead service line replacements last month. The public side of a line runs from the water main to the curb and is owned by PWSA. The private side runs from the curb to the house and is owned by the property owner.

But some, including Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, have contended that replacing only the public side of a line mobilizes lead particles and presents a risk to residents. PWSA suspended the program after drinking water tested at some homes came back with higher lead levels after the partial line replacements.

The authority has argued that case law based on the Municipal Authorities Act bars it from competing with private companies, and that replacing the private side of a lead service line would represent such an act of competition.

Sen. Fontana’s bill would have modified another part of state law, called Municipalities Generally, to spell out that municipalities and municipal authorities may replace private lead service lines.

That bill passed the Senate but has stalled in the House, to Fontana’s surprise and disappointment.

“If I got unanimous (approval) here in two committees and the floor, and then got unanimous (approval) through a committee, local government, over there, somebody has to ask the question, which I’ve tried to but I’m not getting any answer, as to why you wouldn’t run it in the House,” Fontana said.

Peduto said some of the leadership in Harrisburg “have refused to move it.” He attributed part of the delay on the local bills to the fact that the city was waiting to see what the state House would do.

Without the backing of lawmakers in Harrisburg, Peduto said there are stickier legal issues to sort out on the local level.

“If we can’t get Harrisburg to change the law, then we’re going to create a convoluted system where the city of Pittsburgh would remove that line, putting the city outside of the Municipal Authorities Act, and potentially avoiding a lawsuit, but not clearly avoiding a lawsuit,” Peduto said.

House leadership did not initially respond to a request for comment. 

Editor’s Note: House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin responded to Peduto’s comments on Thursday, saying it was “utterly ludicrous” for the mayor to blame Harrisburg for a delay on a City Council bill. Miskin said the bill had not been scheduled for a vote, because the budget is the current priority and did not indicate when it would be scheduled for a vote. Miskin said he doesn’t think Fontana’s bill is a “slam dunk,” because a number of legislators have concerns about spending public resources on private property.