September 13, 2017

Back to school on water infrastructure: Five reasons to challenge Trump’s privatization agenda

Water fountain. Credit: Max Pixel

The summer’s winding down, and students are returning to their classrooms. As folks head back to school, let’s do the same and brush up on the dangers of privatizing our water infrastructure.

Our nation’s water infrastructure — all those pipes that run from reservoirs and water sources to treatment plants to the taps you turn on every day — are aging. All across the country, water systems need some TLC. And people of color and low-income communities are facing disproportionate risks when it comes to access to safe, affordable water. But Donald Trump has put forward an infrastructure agenda that positions the private sector as the solution. And we know, from years of failed privatization projects in the U.S. and around the world, that this is a Very Bad Idea.

Read on for five reasons to challenge Trump’s infrastructure agenda — and one powerful way you can do just that.

1. Trump’s infrastructure agenda is really a corporate giveaway.

​Trump talks a good game about his “$1 trillion infrastructure plan,” but what he’s been pushing all along is really a huge corporate giveaway.

On the campaign trail, his “plan” involved zero direct investment in our nation’s aging roads or water systems — just $137 billion in tax breaks to help corporations privatize our infrastructure through revenue-generating projects like toll roads.

Trump said that tax breaks would stimulate the $1 trillion he’d been talking about, but the math was funny then, and economists say the plan doesn’t add up.

Eight months into his presidency, the Trump administration still hasn’t introduced a formal infrastructure plan, but all signs point to a huge corporate giveaway that will incentivize privatization instead of the public investment we really need.

2. No matter what it’s called, privatizing our infrastructure puts profit above people.

Whether they’re called “public-private partnerships” or “P3 deals,” privatization schemes put our infrastructure at the mercy of corporations’ profit motive.

A corporation won’t invest in a project unless it boosts its bottom line — so it will never take on infrastructure projects that are desperately needed but not profitable. And when a corporation does finance a project, its business model is all about cutting costs and raising rates.

John Stewart is Deputy Campaigns Director at Corporate Accountability International.

That’s why “public-private partnerships” are known worldwide for high rates, budget overruns, shoddy work, health hazards, labor abuses, corruption, and the legal loopholes that corporations use to avoid accountability.

When corporations take over our public infrastructure, it’s beholden to their shareholders, not to people and communities. And that means profits always come before meeting communities’ needs.

3. Water privatization will cost you.

Corporate water privatizers’ top priority is profit, not people, so they’re quick to raise water rates when they take over public water systems. The biggest water privatizers — like the transnational corporations Suez and Veolia — have done just that, over and over again, in towns and cities all across the country.

Massive water corporations undermine confidence in public water based on the false pretense that corporations can manage water systems better and more efficiently than local governments. But large, privately owned water systems actually charge an average of 59 percent more than large, publicly owned systems.

And after a privatization deal with Suez and private equity firm KKR in Bayonne, NJ, some residents were even at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure because they couldn’t afford their skyrocketing water bills.

No one should be forced to choose between paying for their mortgage, rent, and food — or having access to clean water. But the actions of water corporations can force low-income people into such untenable situations.

4. Water privatization is a public health risk.

By cutting corners to drive down costs, private water corporations also jeopardize our health.

While Veolia was managing the municipal water authority in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there was an unauthorized switch to a cheaper corrosion control chemical. And now, lead concentrations are dangerously high, leaving children and families vulnerable to lead poisoning.

And this isn’t the first time Veolia has had a role in a lead crisis. In Flint, Michigan, Veolia was hired to assess the quality of the city’s drinking water. Veolia declared it safe to drink — failing to warn people about lead contamination even though its own documentation showed there was inadequate corrosion control.

Every person has the right to safe, clean drinking water. Veolia, Suez, and other massive transnational privatizers threaten that right.

5. Trump’s infrastructure advisors are rife with conflicts of interest.

The conflicts of interest surrounding Trump’s infrastructure agenda are out of control. His administration is being sued for lack of transparency — and the ethics violations don’t end there.

Several of Trump’s previous infrastructure advisors have ties to some of the world’s biggest privatizers that would likely benefit from his privatization schemes, a clear conflict of interest. Though the infrastructure council has been rightfully disbanded after Trump’s horrendous reactions to the violence in Charlottesville, VA, we can expect that corporate interests, and some of these same advisers,  are still working with the administration to move this infrastructure agenda forward. Advisers whose main objective is a massive transfer of public goods to private hands.

But that’s not all. The World Bank — a notorious advocate for water privatization with its own financial stake in various transnational water corporations — has also offered to advise the Trump administration on its plan, prompting further questions about conflicts of interest.

Any way you slice it, privatizing our infrastructure enriches powerful interests like the water industry at the expense of the people.

We can protect public water together.

We’ve gone back to school on water privatization, and it’s not that complicated after all. Our crumbling infrastructure needs real investment, not privatization.

Democratically controlled public water systems protect public health, promote equity, and are accountable to the people. We must challenge the private water industry and protect water from corporate control. Together, we can strengthen our public water systems and stop privatization in its tracks.

People all across the country are stepping up for public water, including in Congress. We need increased federal investments through initiatives like the WATER Act, which would create a sustained source of robust funding for water infrastructure, paying for these vital investments by cutting corporate tax loopholes. The WATER Act would specifically support low-income, rural, and tribal communities and would mandate a study on discrimination and civil rights violations in water service. It’s about keeping public resources in public hands and ensuring safe, affordable water for all — and that’s the kind of future we want.

We need people around the country to support legislation like this, and work on the local level to ensure their public water is protected. You can be part of the solution by signing up for the Corporate Accountability Action League, which challenges Trump and his corporate cronies through organizing and people power.

Join the Action League today to resist Trump’s corporate infrastructure agenda and protect our public water systems!

Photo credit: Max Pixel

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