Trump’s infrastructure plans will hamper access to clean water

by Kelle Louaillier, originally posted on January 3, 2017


Since Donald Trump unveiled his infrastructure plan, many have written that it should be called a privatization plan, and rightly so.

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman termed it a “privatization scam” and former Obama assistant Ronald A. Klain called it a “massive corporate welfare plan.”

What has received less attention, however, is the devastating impact Trump’s plan could have on our nation’s water systems. As members of Congress concerned with the infrastructure crisis prepare to work with (and stand up to) Trump, there are a set of facts they should know when it comes to our water.

First, Trump’s plan could deepen the private industry’s reach, prioritizing corporate profit over people’s access to water. The plan essentially amounts to a $136 billion corporate tax credit that stands to make corporations richer without addressing much-needed infrastructure improvement.

While Trump’s plan does not explicitly name the private water industry, the industry knows an opportunity to fill its coffers when it sees it. Since the election, a leading private water trade group has voiced its support of Trump, noting that it is “eager to work with [his] administration to open the door” to the industry’s own pro-privatization policy agenda.

That agenda includes unfettered access to tax-exempt, private activity bonds and other public financing resources, like state revolving funds, that have historically supported public works projects.

By inviting the private sector further into the management of our infrastructure, Trump risks spreading the water industry’s disastrous track record across the country.

From Flint, Mich. to Pittsburgh, private water corporations have made water systems worse and profited at the public’s expense. For instance, the industry giant Veolia failed to warn of possible lead contamination in Flint, despite documenting inadequate corrosion control measures.

That dangerous oversight led Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to sue Veolia for negligence. As part of his investigation, Schuette accused Veolia of “callously and fraudulently” dismissing medical concerns through its claims that “some people may be sensitive to any water.”

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has similarly brought Veolia into arbitration for gross mismanagement of its water system. In Hoboken, N.J., more than a dozen water mains have broken under private operation since November 2015.

Suez, the corporation charged with maintaining the system, invests only $350,000 per year into the system while extracting millions in revenue — $8 million in 2011 alone. The corporation claims the main breaks will continue until the city (and its taxpayers) invest more of their own funds to update the city’s infrastructure.

In fact, because of the industry’s mismanagement, dozens of U.S. municipalities have taken back public control of water systems they had formerly privatized.

In addition, Trump’s plan and the water industry’s policy wish list both risk delaying water infrastructure repair and expansion where it is most needed. Both prioritize profit over people’s access to water, neglecting those projects not likely to provide economic returns.

These neglected projects undoubtedly include Flint’s urgent pipe replacement needs, estimated to cost as much as $1.5 billion. But, Flint is not alone.

USA Today identified almost 2,000 additional water systems in all 50 states where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination. Although Trump and the industry cite the Flint crisis and aging infrastructure as a rationale for their policies, both raise the specter of more Flints in the years to come.

Finally, Trump’s plan ignores the solutions that work — public investment and public control of our water systems. Since Philadelphia established the first public water system in 1801, the U.S. has achieved access for 99 percent of its population.

Those systems, when properly funded and democratically run, provide people across the country with clean, safe drinking water. Given our current political climate, it is clear that it will take civic participation, political will and local governance to put the needs of people over corporate bottom lines and protect water as a common good.

Decisionmakers should advocate for public funding for our water systems, not private control. Communities across the country must continue to organize, keeping their water systems in public hands.

As we look ahead to 2017, we are prepared to support communities to strengthen their municipal water systems with public funding, not corporate tax breaks. Lawmakers must stand with these communities and reject Trump’s efforts to enrich water corporations at the expense of people’s health.

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