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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 10, 2015

 

Defend our water

by Tom Sullivan

We seem to have created a political environment in which for some reason our communities can no longer afford to maintain public infrastructure. Oh, right. That requires taxes. (That's 5 letters. Hmmm, I was sure it was a four-letter word.)

Now that We the People have seen fit to ensure we no longer have the revenue to do on a not-for-profit basis the things a Great People once did to create a Great Nation, companies that lobbied long and hard to reduce their taxes (and public revenues) are stepping up, eager to do them for us. For a profit. Go figure.

One of the first public properties that goes into the carts at the Chop 'N Shop is water. Right now, Portland is fighting to retain control of its water system:

A simmering water war is about to come to a boil over the fate of historic, well-loved public reservoirs in Portland, Oregon. At the heart of the controversy is a breakdown in public trust that reflects the dangers of corporate-led water privatization schemesin the United States and around the world.

A 2006 EPA ruling (called LT2) to protect systems against Cryptosporidium precipitated the fight over modifications to reservoirs on the National Register of Historic Places.

At Truthout, Victoria Collier details alleged cronyism in the water project involving contracts with CH2M Hill. (Full disclosure: I did some engineering for them on a factory some years back.) Furthermore, it seems the firm is involved in a coordinated effort to privatize infrastructure on the west coast (emphasis mine):

The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX)was launched collaboratively by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and CH2M Hill, though the corporation has since recused itself from an official partnership position.

Now comprised of governors and state officials from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the WCX is quietly developing a regional "public-private partnership" (PPP) model to fast-track private financing and development of infrastructure - everything from schools, bridges and highways to energy, waste and fresh water systems.

Citing the crippled tax base of so many US states, the WCX notes with regret that crumbling public infrastructure and future development needs can no longer be met by the public sector.

You bet your assets, they regret it. That "crippled tax base" just happened, of course. It just happened to coincide with the interests of international corporations that want to get their hands on public infrastructure across the planet. They want to buy it for a song from tax-starved cities and then sell it right back at a profit. It makes the payday loan industry look benign. As I observed:

Privatizing water supplies is a growth industry. Whether it's American Water, Aqua America, Suez, Veolia Water, or Nestle, private water companies are competing to lock up water resources and public water systems. If not for you, for the fracking industry. As with charter schools and vouchers in public education, public-private partnerships are one of business' favorite tactics for getting this particular camel's nose under the tent.

This is a theme you see repeated with P3s across the country from Michigan south to Georgia and west to California as corporations lobby hard to gain control of public utilities and infrastructure. From schools to prisons to water and sewer. We have already discussed how that is working out for highways.

When Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder placed Detroit under receivership and appointed Kevyn Orr in March 2013 as emergency manager - effectively negating citizen control of their own city government - the first items considered for privatizing were the water and sewer systems. (Receivership ended in December 2014.)

When the GOP took control of North Carolina's legislature in 2011, removing airports and water systems from control of the cities was top of the ALEC agenda. Where cities have fought the state takeovers in court, judges have sided with the cities.

But that's just Round One. Because for the GOP, privatization is a twofer: it lines their corporate donors' pockets and it weakens cities where the remaining large blocks of blue votes are. It's the next phase of Defund the Left.