Water | Food & Water Watch - Part 4
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Blog Posts: Water

December 1st, 2014

United Water Living Large, Customers Stuck with the Bill

By Mitch Jones

Mitch_Jones_BlogThumbIn the wake of the defeat of its plan to build an unnecessary desalination plant in Rockland County, United Water New York finds itself under investigation by the New York Public Service Commission (PSC). The reason? Alleged financial impropriety. In other words: while United Water executives have been partying, ratepayers have been picking up the bill.

According to news reports, the company reported a “$7.1 million ‘misstatement’ of revenue” between 2010 and 2014. The “misstatement” led to three United Water New York executives losing their jobs.

A new report by a local NBC affiliate uncovered even more odd expenses. The company paid close to $80,000 for private school tuition for executives’ kids. On top of that, it paid $16,000 a month to rent a house for its CEO, Bertrand Camus, despite the fact that Mr. Camus is both the CEO of United Water and of its parent company, Suez Environment North America. Surely he can afford to pay his own rent.

But what’s even more ridiculous is that the company spent about $6,000 for golf balls in 2012. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you about the efficiencies of the private sector.

While the company was paying for these perks for its executives, it was seeking outrageous rate hikes for its customers. The company asked for a 28.9 percent rate increase this summer. Thankfully for its customers, New York PSC refused to grant such a large increase and approved one for 13.3 percent instead. During the proceedings on the rate increase, the PSC questioned expenses reported by the company for “holiday parties, award events, gifts, etc.,” as well as for a “wives breakfast” (seriously?) and for alcohol for corporate parties. Ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay more for their water service so that United Water New York can throw itself boozy parties.

Of course, United Water New York didn’t see any problem with including the parties in its request. It told the PSC that it would “provide more benefits than cost.” I doubt your typical Rockland County ratepayer benefits more from a corporate “wives breakfast” than it costs.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior. We’ve chronicled United Water’s failures for years as it attempts to make a profit out of privatizing water service. But lack of surprise doesn’t mean a lack of outrage. For the increasing rates that they’re paying, United Water’s customers deserve better.

November 26th, 2014

What Happens When You Greenwash Fracking

By Hugh MacMillan

Last week, the Obama administration heard from large environmental groups about the need to directly regulate emissions of methane –– a potent greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas. The Obama administration has not been listening, as evidenced two days later when it dropped its Fall 2014 Statements of Regulatory Priorities for this fiscal year. The administration’s shortcoming does not surprise us, but from our perspective, the prospect of methane regulations makes for a Trojan horse.

Read the full article…

November 24th, 2014

Halliburton acquires Baker Hughes and its ‘trade secrets’

Fracking-Rig-DTM-Blog

By Francesca Buzzi

This October, oilfield company Baker Hughes made a surprising announcement that the company would begin disclosing the contents of its frac fluid. Oilfield companies like Baker Hughes, Halliburton, and Schlumberger provide drilling and well completion support—including the creation of toxic frac fluid—to oil and gas companies. Last week, the company announced that they will merge with multinational giant, Haliburton – the very company after whom an infamous Safe Drinking Water Act exemption is named.

Read the full article…

November 21st, 2014

The Last Straw for Irish Citizens: The Struggle Against Water Charges

By David Sánchez

IrishRight2WaterA European country in crisis. Men in black come to the rescue. With the complicity of the national government, they impose painful measures on the population. Men in black never forget to be nice to their friends, so the measures include a provision to privatise public water services. As a reaction, massive citizen’s mobilisations take place. The story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We have already experienced this situation in Greece, and just a few months ago, Greek citizens won the battle, and water will remain in public hands. Now history repeats itself, and the struggle against water privatisation and commodification is at boiling point in Ireland.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Irish Government and the men in black (also known as the Troika, formed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) provides for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a new water utility, Irish Water, easy to be privatised in the near future. In a nod to their cronies, the men in black tapped former Irish Minister of Environment Phil Hogan, who led the implementation of these changes, as the new European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Following months of protests and resistance, on November 1, more than 150,000 people mobilised across Ireland to oppose the changes. Water charges in Ireland will discriminate against those with less economic means and the unemployed, adding another regressive tax at a time when citizens have been asked to make too many sacrifices to solve an economic crisis which they did not cause. Ireland’s public water system is already paid for through general taxation, which is progressive, and charges commercial users. The Irish people have already shown that they wish it to remain that way.

Once again, European citizens should raise their voice against water privatisation and commodification. Food & Water Europe, together with our allies at the European Water Movement, want to express our solidarity with Irish citizens. Resisting water charges means fighting for access to water as a universal human right, and against the commodification of water. And it means blocking future privatisation attempts.

When will the European Commission finally get the message? Its provisions to privatise water failed in Greece, and they will fail in Ireland if citizens continue with their mobilisation. People in the streets of Dublin, Madrid or Athens; citizens voting in Thessaloniki, Rome or Berlin; nearly 2 million Europeans signing the Citizens Initiative on the Right to Water. All of them are claiming water as a public and common good. Men in black should be nice, for a change, to their citizens — not to their friends.

You can support the Irish campaign on the Right to Water here.

 

November 5th, 2014

Using Our Voice and Our Votes to Fight Corporate Interests

By Wenonah Hauter

1411_FBHL_ElectionsQuote-C1I can’t say that I was surprised as the returns came in from the bruising midterm election last night. It’s no accident that a group of die-hard reactionaries were elected in many states from the flood of dark money, in combination with low turnout and shocking voting rights abuses. Once again, the Democratic strategy of sounding “Republican Light” and relying on TV ads to win seats in a handful of swing states has proven ineffective.

The fact is, no matter which party is in control of Congress, our way forward remains clear: We must continue to organize and keep elected officials accountable on the issues we care about.

While news programs spent most of yesterday and today talking about big wins for the Republican Party and corporations, the American people still managed to make a considerable difference. Voters went to the polls in Reading, Pennsylvania and Sussex Borough, New Jersey to prevent corporations from privatizing their respective water systems. In addition, the people of Athens, Ohio, San Benito County and Mendocino County, California and Denton, Texas all successfully voted to ban fracking in their communities.

This midterm election put communities and corporations up against one another in a very unfair fight. Plain and simple, Big Oil and Gas tried to use money to bludgeon its opposition. In San Benito County alone, the oil industry spent about $2 million in order to spread misinformation about fracking and lead residents astray.

But what did local residents have to fight against this dangerous campaign of lies? They wielded true facts about fracking, backed up by independent scientific research. And these dedicated activists pounded the pavement, talking with neighbors and building a network of trust.

People dedicated to banning fracking in their communities may have been outspent 13 to 1. But they still managed to win, and preserve the wellbeing of the places they live for future generations. To date, 136 communities in the U.S. have banned fracking, and that number is only likely to grow.

By gutting campaign finance laws, the U.S. Supreme Court put a gaping wound in our democratic process. The Koch Brothers and other greedy sources of dark money have given corporate interests a soapbox and a megaphone to push a dangerous, selfish agenda.

Things will be very tough in Congress now, and we expect more McCarthy-like tactics. But Food & Water Watch and our supporters will not be cowed or frightened.

We will continue to fight for our right to clean drinking water and safe food; for our right to know what ingredients are used in our food; for our right to preserve our health and our environment; for our right to create a better, healthier world for our children and future generations.

That’s why no matter what the results of the elections at any given time, we must continue to raise our voices and engage politically so that we can build the political power to create the world we want for our children and grandchildren.

That’s what we’ll continue to do in 2015.

October 31st, 2014

Water Markets: A False Solution to a Real Crisis

Water_Protest_VolunteersPutting a public resource in the hands of the wealthy will not solve California’s water crisis

By Mitch Jones

If we have learned anything from the water shut-offs in Detroit and the ongoing water crisis in the Western U.S., it is that every community deserves access to safe and reliable water, regardless of its ability to pay. Yet a new movement is afoot to transfer control of our water to new water markets. Despite the evidence privatizing water doesn’t work, water privatization and market-based schemes are still being pushed upon the public as a solution. Specifically, we are seeing the idea of water markets gain attention, especially in response to the Western drought.

While not a new idea, the widespread use of water markets, which represents the financialization of all of our common resources, is relatively new. They are a false solution that assigns the benefits of our investment in this common resource to a small few at the expense of everyone else, and do little to ensure adequate supply to anyone.

We know that large financial institutions dream of water markets. In fact, Willem Buiter, Chief Economist at Citigroup, has written of his desire to see a global water market: “I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps — both exchange-traded and OTC will follow…. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Read the full article…

October 23rd, 2014

When Will EPA Meet with Residents Harmed by Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

For over a year now, residents from communities affected by drilling and fracking for natural gas have tried to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Specifically, residents from three affected communities – Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming; and Parker County, Texas—have tried to meet with McCarthy to discuss the EPA’s failure to complete the critical investigations into the connection between their contaminated drinking water and the gas development in their communities.

On October 10, residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania and advocacy organizations held a press conference in front of EPA. During this event, Tom Reynolds, the Associate Administrator of the Office of Public Affairs at EPA, came down to speak with the residents and he promised to respond with available dates for a meeting with Gina McCarthy by Friday, October 17. But we still have not heard back from him.

In July 2013, an EPA region 3 whistleblower leaked a Powerpoint presentation to the Los Angeles Times showing that local EPA officials were concerned about contamination in the drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The presentation showed that the contamination was likely caused by gas drilling and fracking, contradicting findings of EPA water testing deeming the water in Dimock safe to drink. The EPA had also returned the Pavilion water contamination investigation to the state of Wyoming and dropped its litigation in Parker County, Texas –two other cases where evidence showed that the water contamination was likely caused by drilling and fracking, revealing a disturbing trend.

As a new administrator of the EPA, the residents and advocates wanted to meet with Gina McCarthy, update her on what had happened in these three communities and make sure she understood that residents were still living with contaminated water. Last September, affected residents delivered 250,000 petitions calling on the EPA to reopen the investigations and met with EPA officials in the public affairs office, but Administrator McCarthy did not attend the meeting. Since that time, she has refused to meet with the residents despite formal requests, thousands of emails and phone calls from people across the country, and even in-person requests of the administrator at public events.

At Food & Water Watch, we recently reviewed Administrator McCarthy’s public schedule and it shows that in the past year she has met with the CEO of BP twice; the head of the two major gas industry trade associations, the American National Gas Association (ANGA) and the American Gas Association (AGA); the head of the American Chemistry Council, which uses the natural gas liquids; and the CEOs of two major electricity utilities that depend on fossil fuels—Exelon and NRG.

1410_FBHL-OilGasMeetings-C1

 

It is disturbing that Gina McCarthy made the time to meet with the oil and gas industry, but not with the residents who are living with contaminated water. The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, not to protect the interests of oil and gas industry. Call on Administrator McCarthy to uphold the EPA’s mission and ask her to meet with the residents affected by drilling and fracking.

October 22nd, 2014

UN Officials Echo Pleas to Restore Water Service in Detroit

By Lynna Kaucheck

Detroit_UN_Visit-BlogThumb

United Nations (UN) representatives Catarina de Albuquerque (left) and Leilani Farha (right) answer questions from local residents during a UN Fact-Finding Detroit Town Hall Meeting.

This past weekend, representatives from the United Nations visited Detroit to witness first-hand the repercussions of the city’s on-going water crisis. Needless to say, they were shocked, as I have been too, despite my many years fighting for water justice in the Motor City.

Ten years ago, when I first started working to preserve the right of Detroiters to safe, clean, affordable water, I never imagined the trajectory that work would take. Quite frankly, some of the politicking that has occurred in those areas over the past decade I couldn’t have anticipated in my wildest dreams.

After sitting under the thumb of a federal judge for 35 years, in March of 2013, the city of Detroit regained oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). That same month, Governor Rick Snyder sent emergency manager (EM) Kevyn Orr to Detroit to run the city, foregoing in the process, democracy and citizen participation. A few months later, the city declared bankruptcy and the threat of privatizing the DWSD became very real. This past March, after talks with suburban entities over a regional water authority broke down, Orr announced a plan to privatize the DWSD, issuing a request for information from interested parties. Within hours, the DWSD announced plans to pursue an aggressive shut-off plan in the city with a goal of denying water to 1,500 – 3,000 residences a week.

Of course, misinformation about the shutoffs abounded. This wasn’t simply a case of people opting not to pay their water bills. Some 40 percent of the city lives in poverty, victims of decades of misplaced civic priorities and policies that put profits ahead of people. Read the full article…

October 10th, 2014

Susan G. Komen, Fracking and “Pink Sh*t”

By Wenonah Hauter

BlogThumb_PinkDrill

What the frack? A pink fracking drill bit.

This week Susan G. Komen announced a partnership with Baker Hughes, a massive oilfield service company that operates in 90 countries. Throughout the month of October, Baker Hughes will “do their bit” in the fight against breast cancer by selling pink fracking drill bits.

While I fully support efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer, as a long-time consumer and environmental activist, I simply can’t abide such blatant pinkwashing, particularly when it willfully ignores the very obvious connection between fracking and breast cancer.

Our newest report, “The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking,” reveals that the practice of fracking utilizes over 100 dangerous chemicals known to cause life-threatening illnesses. Exposure to at least one of these chemicals, benzene, has been confirmed to increase people’s risk of developing cancer. And fracking waste can’t just be thrown into a dump or landfill with the rest of the trash. It’s highly toxic, often radioactive, and can easily seep into the atmosphere and water. In a handful of incidents, oil and gas companies have injected fracking fluids or wastes very close to, if not directly into, underground sources of drinking water.

If fracking is so dangerous, and if the corporations that do it are knowingly releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment, why on earth would the world’s largest breast cancer nonprofit think it’s a good idea to go into a partnership with them? This completely goes against the organization’s mission to “end breast cancer forever.”

To be honest, Susan G. Komen’s relationship with Baker Hughes is the cherry on top of a chemical-laden, toxic sundae. From pink water bottles containing BPAs to pink buckets of KFC containing carcinogenic ingredients, Susan G. Komen has made it clear they are prioritizing their pink bottom line over people they’re supposed to be helping.

Ultimately, the national nonprofit Breast Cancer Action summed this debacle up best in a recent press release:

“Breast Cancer Action today thanked Susan G. Komen and Baker Hughes for partnering on the most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t they’ve seen all year – 1,000 shiny pink drill bits. BCAction hailed this partnership as the most egregious example of “pinkwashing” they’ve ever seen and heartily lauded Komen and Baker Hughes for doing their bit to increase women’s risk of breast cancer with their toxic fracking chemicals.”

We concur.

September 29th, 2014

What Will it Take for the EPA to Act on Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

CraigStevensDimockWater-FBSQIt is well known that drilling and fracking contaminate water and it’s happening all across the United States. Yet President Obama and his administration, including the Environmental Protection Agency, are not only letting this happen unchecked, they’re actively promoting and expanding fracking. That’s why we’ve long been blowing the whistle and demanding answers.

Last Thursday, a Resources for the Future Policy Leadership Forum featured a conversation with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Craig Stevens, whose water is contaminated from a gas pipeline, and I attended the forum hoping that we could ask Administrator McCarthy a single question: why won’t she meet with the families affected by water contamination from drilling and fracking for oil and gas?

Read the full article…

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