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October 26th, 2011

Is the EPA Selling Out Your Water?

EPA Sellling Out Your WaterBy Kate Fried

We were disheartened to learn this week that Nancy Stoner, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) acting assistant administrator for water, is an advocate for water privatization. In an interview with Greenwire (Sorry, but subscription required.), Stoner expressed doubt about the federal government’s ability to help provide the public with drinking and wastewater service, citing them as “too expensive.” She then went on to say,

“I think there’s big money in to be made in how to address the water resources needs for our country, particularly when we are going to have population growth, development, the decay of existing infrastructure and climate change.”

Hearing a top government official in charge of protecting one of our most essential shared resources laud a scheme that has been linked to the degradation of municipal water supplies definitely makes us wonder where our government is placing its priorities. Across the U.S., privatization has been linked to deteriorating water quality, rate hikes, job force reductions and poor customer service.

If there is any money to be made in water privatization, it’s among wealthy corporations and their shareholders, who time and time again have proven that they are not responsible patrons of common resources such as water. Privatization has led to disasters around the U.S., especially in Illinois, where customers of the water systems purchased by Illinois American Water and Aqua Illinois over the last fifteen years have seen their water bills more than double on average since privatization.

The EPA should be ensuring the abundance of safe, clean, affordable water, not encouraging corporations to swindle more Americans.

Stoner is correct in her assessment of the challenges facing municipal water systems, which every year fall at least $22 billion short of the funds needed to safely and affordably deliver this basic resource to Americans. Many public water systems in the United States were built over a century ago, around the same time that Henry Ford was tinkering around with the first Model T.  Few people rely on cars from that era for their basic transportation needs, yet much of our water flows through pipes just as old.

While Stoner supports the President’s proposed infrastructure bank, which wouldn’t even address the needs of small and rural water systems, she fails to mention a bill recently introduced in Congress that would create a clean water trust. Food & Water Watch has been actively engaged in the fight to establish such a fund for several years now because it would create a sustainable, dedicated source of federal funding for community water systems, freeing them from the funding whims of congress and the president. According to our research, closing the gap in federal infrastructure funding could also create up to 750,000 new jobs.

Today Food & Water Watch issued an open letter to Stoner that encapsulated many of the points above, and can best be summed up with this: When looked at from the perspective of environmental protection or job creation, privatization is a problem, not a solution.

It’s no secret that our nation’s prolonged economic crunch has drained local and federal coffers alike. Perhaps we’re so accustomed to recession-era hysteria that just about every fix to raise money seems like a sound one. Regardless, it’s extremely irresponsible of the EPA to advocate for water privatization.

Municipal water systems deliver an essential resource that belongs to us all. Our government should remember that before turning it into a cash cow.

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