March 30, 2021

STATEMENT: Public investment and control, not privatization: What to look for in Biden’s infrastructure plan

Tomorrow, it is expected that President Biden will announce a highly anticipated infrastructure plan. 

It’s notable that President Biden is announcing the infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh, PA — a city that intimately knows the cost of crumbling infrastructure and water privatization. Under private water corporation Veolia’s management, the Pittsburgh water and sewer authority switched to a cheaper corrosion control chemical without proper authorization — and a lead crisis soon followed. In the end, Veolia walked away with over $11 million from its management contracts in Pittsburgh while local officials were left to find hundreds of millions of dollars to replace pipes leaching lead.

Here are the principles we’ll be looking for in the plan: 

Infrastructure should prioritize communities that have been systematically disinvested in for years

  • This plan is an opportunity to make restorative and reparative investments in predominantly Black and Indigenous communities that have been willfully ignored for decades.
  • Communities most impacted by environmental and racial injustice — Black, brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color — must be at the center of these policies and solutions from conception to implementation. 

Public investment and control, not privatization

  • Infrastructure should be funded by the public sector and for the public good. This includes through progressive taxation to ensure these costs are borne by those most able to pay — billionaires, millionaires, and the corporations who have exacerbated the crises we face today — not low-income people or communities.
  • No incentives for privatization (including  “public-private partnerships”), which have failed time and again across sectors.

Available funds should not force communities to compete against each other or with multi-billion-dollar corporations

  • Forcing communities to compete ignores the universal challenge we are all facing when it comes to infrastructure.
  • The package should not expand private activity bonds, open up state revolving funds to corporations or rely on WIFIA, all of which would pit cash-strapped communities against each other and multi-billion dollar corporations for hard-fought federal dollars or facilitate privatization.

Real just climate solutions, no net zero and dangerous distractions

  • The package is expected to center climate change and green infrastructure, but that cannot come with risky, unproven, and inherently dangerous schemes such as net zero, carbon offsets, and carbon trading. 
  • Expansion or rebuilding of infrastructure cannot come at the cost of eliminating robust environmental reviews or consultation with frontline communities.

Prioritize public transportation

  • COVID-19 has left many public transportation systems hanging by a thread. Now is the time to invest in free, zero-emission public transportation nationwide.

Bridge the digital divide by prioritizing broadband access and equity 

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has further proven that internet service is an essential utility. We must prioritize investing in broadband service for unserved and underserved communities and prioritize affordability so communities who need it can access it. 

Create good, well-paying jobs 

  • The package should include local hiring and prevailing wage requirements and other labor protections. This cannot be neglected in favor of handouts to private equity or corporations. 
  • We must avoid the mistakes made by the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed nearly 8.5 million Americans to build post offices, bridges, schools, highways and other infrastructure, but disproportionately denied these opportunities for workers of color. This time, we must make sure those who were excluded last time are put first. 

A quote from Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability:

“With this plan, President Biden could tackle the compounding crises of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure: the climate crisis, decades of federal neglect, and the economic recession. And he couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate city to unveil it in, given the fraught history of privatization in Pittsburgh — including a devastating lead crisis that developed following a deal with notorious private water corporation Veolia. 

Biden’s infrastructure plan could prioritize Black, Indigenous, and other communities that have been systematically disinvested in for years. It could keep infrastructure in community control, not corporate pockets, and advance real, just climate solutions at scale. But, if corporations get their way, it could instead pave the way for dangerous privatization across sectors — from schools to water to our roads. In order to truly Build Back Better, President Biden must reject industry-driven schemes like net zero and “public-private partnerships” and instead prioritize direct, equitable federal investment in our infrastructure.” 

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