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Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


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April 13th, 2015

The U.S. Water Alliance’s Water Prize Greenwashes Pollution Trading

By Scott Edwards

When is an award really greenwashing? When it recognizes a scheme that perpetuates pollution of our waterways as innovative.

Tonight, the U.S. Water Alliance, a Washington-based water policy organization, will hand the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) its 2015 United States Water Prize for its work promoting water pollution trading in the highly polluted Ohio River Basin.

In a press release, a former EPA official called the EPRI project impressive, noting that “…companies now have an opportunity to receive turn-key verified credits to meet their stewardship goals, address compliance needs, support farms, and protect ecosystems.”

Share this image and help us spread... the word to EPA that pollution trading just doesn't work!

Share this image and help us spread… the word to EPA that pollution trading just doesn’t work!

The problem is, water pollution trading is a market-based scheme that does none of that. But polluting industries, like coal-fired plants, and their front groups promote it as a way to avoid upgrading their facilities to protect our threatened waterways. For over 40 years, the Clean Water Act (CWA) has demanded that these industries implement increasingly advanced pollution reduction technologies towards the Act’s ultimate goal of eliminating discharges from our waterways. But companies don’t like to be regulated. So, with EPRI’s pay-to-pollute program, proven methods of regulating pollution under the CWA are being significantly eroded and our rivers, streams and bays will pay the price.

Water pollution trading is essentially a scam. The untested theory is that agriculture operations that discharge nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich manure into our nutrient-impaired waterways can cheaply reduce their discharges through the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) like grass buffers. These BMPs generate pollution “credits” that the agriculture operations sell to EPRI’s power plant Board members who want to avoid controlling their own nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. Trading proponents label this approach as a “win/win,” and they’re right. Power plants win because they get to keep on polluting and agricultural operations win because they can continue to avoid regulation while making money from the sale of the credits (and installing BMPs that are never subject to monitoring and discharge verification).

Industry wins and agriculture wins—but our rivers lose. In fact, the list of successful pilot trades EPRI and others trumpet in support of their approach are anything but.

Take, for example, the trading plan concocted for the Alpine Cheese factory in Ohio. Alpine Cheese has been a chronic violator of its CWA permit as it dumped excess amounts of nutrients into the impaired Sugar Creek. Back in 2006, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) crafted a trading plan that allowed Alpine Cheese to fund the implementation of BMPs of local dairy operations in lieu of forcing the factory to adhere to permit limits to meet Sugar Creek’s water quality standards. That five-year plan called for biannual inspections of all the participating dairy operations to “verify” that the BMPs were installed and effective. OEPA, the Agency charged with protecting waterways in the state, wasn’t even allowed to take part in this water quality inspection and verification plan because in a 2005 letter, Ohio Representative Bob Gibbs told the Agency to stay off the farms.

We have retrieved a number of public records related to the Alpine Cheese trading scheme, as well as several records related to the Pennsylvania trading program. What we’ve found is disturbing (perhaps it’s not too late for the Alliance to ask for its award back.)

The agreement called for biannual farm inspections for Alpine Cheese over the five-year period – a total of 10 inspection reports for each operation in the program. What we found, instead, was a small smattering of inspection checklists representing a fraction of these mandated reports. There was no monitoring done to verify farm nutrient reduction, and no confirmation of actual results. At the same time, Alpine Cheese continued to regularly violate even its relaxed nutrient permit standards while OEPA stood by. And the Sugar Creek that was supposed to be the beneficiary of this “innovative” new approach to water quality? That remains on Ohio’s nutrient impaired list without any evidence that overall water quality is improving.

The Ohio River Basin is also the “beneficiary” of the ongoing Pennsylvania trading program that we are also scrutinizing. There, third party manure brokers are making money by moving tons of poultry factory farm manure out of the southeast corner of the state where it poisons the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Transport manifests show that hundreds of tons of manure are being driven across the state to the southwest corner of Pennsylvania to be dumped. That’s the corner of the state that sits in the Ohio River Basin, where EPRI is operating its own manure-shifting program.

If innovation is moving piles of manure around the country from one impaired waterway to another, allowing a highly-polluting industrial agricultural operation to continue discharging into our waterways, and giving power plants a way out of complying with permits—and controlling their own discharges—then EPRI deserves even more awards. It’s a shame, though, that they would come at the expense of clean water and communities.

Call on the Environmental Protection Agency to PROTECT the Clean Water Act and REJECT water pollution trading schemes.


Protecting the Human Right to Water, One System at a Time

By Kate Fried Toast_Glasses_Water

With thousands of households in Detroit and Baltimore facing water service shutoffs, and a drought looming over California, it might not seem like there’s much good news in the world of water these days. But the recent publication of Our Public Water Future: The Global Experience of Remunicipalisation highlights the advances made in communities around the globe to take back water as a public good, and reminds us that that we can and should enjoy unfettered access to safe, clean, affordable water, as long as it’s managed as a common resource, not a commodity exploited by corporations.

What is remunicipalization, exactly? It’s when a community resumes public operation and management of its water system, often after private operation has failed customers in some way. We’ve documented at length the problems experienced by customers of privatized water systems—higher rates, poor service and lack of accountability being some of the most egregious examples. It’s no wonder then that many communities opt to reclaim control of their drinking and wastewater systems. Read the full article…

April 8th, 2015

“Science” or Spin?

By Wenonah Hauter WenonahHauter.Profile

Today we released a report on the corporate influence behind animal science research, which got me thinking about the role that science plays in public debates over controversial issues, particularly the ones we focus on here at Food & Water Watch.

When I think of science, I think of information that has been proven true from extensive research. Modern science explains the physical universe in real and concrete terms. It’s supposed to be unimpeachable. Yet over the years, corporations have co-opted the use of the term “science” to skew debates and influence public policy towards outcomes that favor their interests.

Corporations use scientific claims to sell the public on controversial products and practices such as GMOs; drugs given to food animals like Zilmax and rGBH; and fracking. They stand to profit if these technologies and drugs are allowed, so they use science as a cloak of validation, skewing public perception of these questionable practices, when in reality, we should be very skeptical.

While it might seem that the science on these practices is unbiased, corporations with a direct financial stake heavily influence much of the research that policy makers use to approve or reject them. Corporate Control in Animal Science, released this week, documents the great extent to which drug companies and corporate agribusiness shape the debate around their own products, authoring and funding journal articles at the same time that they sponsor and edit influential scientific journals.

While highly troubling, it’s not terribly surprising to learn that the animal drug industry operates like the human pharmaceutical industry. Both use immense resources to capture and control the scientific research around their products. It’s similar to the ways in which corporations influence agriculture research at universities, as we outlined in our report Public Research, Private Gain.

Take for example, the drug Zilmax, developed to build muscle in cattle, which enjoyed years of commercial success despite animal safety concerns. Zilmax was approved for cattle in 2006 based on industry science and only one animal safety study. In August 2013, the nation’s largest meatpackers announced they would no longer accept cattle treated with Zilmax because of significant animal health problems. Cattle were arriving at slaughterhouses already dead, or with missing hooves. Yes, you read that correctly. Merck, the company that manufactures Zilmax, withdrew the drug from the market to a loss of as much as $160 million a year.

There was plenty of evidence that Zilmax was unsafe, even before Merck voluntarily removed it from the market. As many as 160 foreign countries had banned the class of drugs to which Zilmax belongs. Nearly 300 reports submitted to FDA documented cattle that died or had to be destroyed after receiving the drug. Yet despite these obvious red flags, FDA continued to let favorable research from the drug’s makers Merck and Intervet guide its decision-making.

As our report shows, 78 published articles examined the effects of Zilmax on cattle, and three-quarters of those studies were authored or funded by industry groups or corporate agribusiness. Most of these studies focused on the commercial aspects of Zilmax, like how easily a diner could cut meat from an animal treated with the drug, or what the meat would look like. In our research, we didn’t find a single independent, peer-reviewed study designed to examine animal health prior to Zilmax’s removal from the marketplace. After Zilmax was taken off the market, a study published in the independent journal PLOS ONE revealed that cattle treated with the drug had dramatically increased mortality rates along with other animal health issues.

As the Zilmax example shows, when industry dominates scientific research, no useful counterpoint is offered that might expose the weaknesses or biases of that research. Because many journals have weak disclosure rules, lawmakers and regulators often don’t know that the literature they consult is paid for by industry or authored by deeply conflicted university scientists.

We can’t let executives at major agribusiness corporations be the only ones making critical decisions that affect our food system. Congress needs to tell FDA to revamp its process for approving new animal drugs, basing its decision on independent science. While they’re at it, the federal government should expand funding for animal drug safety research so reliable information is available in the first place. In the meantime, agriculture journal publishers should disclose the funding of studies they publish.

As we’ve reported with the phenomenon of food company mergers, and as I wrote in my book Foodopoly, a handful of corporations are seizing control of the food system. But we can’t let them take over science, too, or exploit the term for their own gain. Just as science needs to remain objective and unbiased, every level of our food system, including the drugs used in livestock and poultry production, should remain free from corporate influence.

April 6th, 2015

Standing Up For Philadelphia’s Sustainable Economy

By Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks is joining Food & Water Watch to fight the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan”.

Philadelphia’s biggest polluters are trying to bring even more dirty and dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure to our city, threatening our sustainable local economy and the health of our citizens.

In the early 1970s, my block of Victorian brownstones faced demolition to make way for a strip mall. Compelled to save our homes, my neighbors and I organized, fought the demolition plan and won. I realized then that people can exercise our true power when we work together.

It was on the first floor of my house on that block that I founded the White Dog Café in 1983, which became a pioneer in Philadelphia’s vibrant farm-to-table restaurant scene. Now, the oil and gas industry is pushing forward a plan they’re calling the Philadelphia “energy hub” that would sideline sustainable local economies like our bountiful local food system. So I’m standing with Food & Water Watch and the other organizations working to fight the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan.”

This is important to me, not only because a fossil fuel-based economy threatens life on Earth for future generations, but also because it poses an immediate danger. Every day, oil trains carrying highly flammable crude oil pass right through our neighborhoods, only blocks from my own home. Across the continent, these same trains have derailed, causing horrific explosions and fires that have lasted for days.

Judy Wicks oil train

Judy Wicks standing in front of an oil train, just a few blocks away from her home.

Philadelphia could be next.

Tragically, natural gas explosions have already happened in Philadelphia. In my neighborhood, where the lines are nearly 100 years old, gas leaks are a regular occurrence. Last year, a row house only four blocks from mine blew up due to a gas leak, destroying adjacent houses and damaging 10 homes. Residents escaped with their lives, but their homes were completely destroyed. Just last week, a gas explosion in New York City collapsed three buildings, killing two and injuring nearly 20 people.

Philadelphia has the opportunity to plan a safe and clean energy future and to grow our urban economy to be among America’s most sustainable cities. We can invest in our regional food and renewable energy systems and encourage the sustainable economies already thriving in our city. However, some of our city’s dirtiest fossil fuel executives have a different plan in mind. They want to turn Philadelphia into a hub for dirty energy with more oil trains, more gas pipelines and more explosive fossil fuels like liquefied natural gas. Let’s make sure that the Philadelphia City Council does not invest our tax money in this dying, dead-end and deadly industry.

Like the mall that nearly demolished my home over 30 years ago, the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan” entraps us in a stale vision that we need to move beyond, and precludes new and creative dreams like White Dog Café once was for me. Help us defeat these fossil fuel pipe dreams and protect a vibrant and healthy future for Philadelphia!

Click here to send a message to Philadelphia City Council urging them to steer away from this dangerous plan.

Thanks for taking action.

Judy Wicks is the founder of the White Dog Café. She also founded Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and Fair Food Philly. 

April 3rd, 2015

Reality Checking Our Water Woes

By Darcey O’Callaghan and Kate FriedWater_Faucet

This week while promoting his new music service, Tidal, Jay Z made a well intended but nonetheless tone deaf statement, gushing about the beauty of supposedly “free” water service. While tap water may seem free to a rap mogul, those in Detroit who have been living without this essential service because they cannot afford to pay their water bills are singing a very different tune. In a seemingly unrelated development, the New York Times published an editorial that day claiming that water isn’t priced highly enough and thus isn’t properly valued. Both statements were wrong, and reflect some fundamental misconceptions about how our society views and values water. Read the full article…

Volunteer Spotlight: Passion Drives This Lifetime Activist

IMG_5226By Ari Moledina

Here at Food & Water Watch, success relies on building people power and demonstrating that power to hold elected officials accountable. Partnerships between staff and volunteers are integral to fighting and winning campaigns to protect our most valuable resources.

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, which offers our Colorado team the perfect opportunity to acknowledge a particularly active and enthusiastic volunteer, Suzann Thomas.

I have been working with Suzann since last fall and was inspired immediately by her dedication. She is a key member of our core group and her passion is evident based on her willingness to jump in and take on any task. Suzann brings a contagious optimism and zeal to her work that motivates us all. I was excited to have a chance to get to know Suzann a little better and ask her a few questions about why she gives her time to Food & Water Watch.

Ari: Where are you from?
Suzann: I’m originally from Austin, Texas, but I’ve been in Denver since 1989.

A: What is your career background?
S: I worked as a hearing officer in the disability field for many years. Currently I am semi-retired and work as a spiritual guidance counselor for Mile High Church.

A: How long have you been an activist?
S: Forever!

A: What types of issues have you worked on?
S: I’ve worked on opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline, banning fracking, labeling GMOs, and stopping antibiotic resistance.

A: How did you get involved with Food & Water Watch?
S: I went to a movie screening of “Dear Governor Hickenlooper” [a documentary on fracking in Colorado that calls on Governor John Hickenlooper to ban it] and spoke to [Food & Water Watch Western Region Director] Sam Schabacker while I was there. At the time, Food & Water Watch was working on keeping fracking out of Loveland, so I told him I’d be happy to help out. I’ve been volunteering ever since!

A: Why do you volunteer with Food & Water Watch?
S: I am an earth steward and it’s close to my heart to preserve this planet and every aspect of it. I think the work Food & Water Watch does is so important and that more people should be paying attention to the issues you work on. I’m at a stage in my life where I am able to focus on these topics that I am so passionate about, so that’s where I choose to put my time.

A: What do you do for fun?
S: I love scuba diving, creative reading and writing. 

A: What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
S: Swam with whale sharks in Isla Holbox [in Mexico]!

A: What makes you ‘tick’?
S: Reading, writing, the oceans, live music, and being around people.

A: What are you most passionate about?
S: The protection of species on this planet and the oceans; I have two young grandchildren, and I want them to be able to enjoy this earth and our oceans the way that I have.

We are so grateful for volunteers like Suzann, who work side-by-side with the Food & Water Watch staff in the fight to defend our essential resources.

It’s passion for the planet that drives Suzann to volunteer with Food & Water Watch. If you have a passion to protect the safety, accessibility and sustainability of food and water, we want to hear from you. Sign up to volunteer and join the fight for a more just and sustainable future!

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month to all the dedicated people who share their time, energy, skills and passion with Food & Water Watch each day.

Ari Moledina has been an intern with Food & Water Watch in Denver since October 2014; she has worked on GMO labeling, antibiotic resistance, and fracking campaigns.

April 2nd, 2015

The Ghosts of Pollution Trading Past, Present and Future

Pollution_TradingBy Elizabeth Nussbaumer

The hits just keep on coming as another pollution trading scheme joins the ranks of fraudulent scams. E & E News reports that the Utah-based company Washakie Renewable Energy LLC settled for $3 million in the face of allegations that the company generated and sold over 7.2 million renewable fuel credits between January and October 2010 for biodiesel that was never produced. Washakie reaped profits of over $2 million from the fraudulent credits.

According to the EPA, because of these fake credits, the equivalent of 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere. Despite requirements in the settlement that Washakie Renewable Energy LLC purchase and retire credits to replace the fraudulent ones, this instills very little confidence of true reparations given how easy it was for Washakie to manipulate credits to begin with.

This isn’t the first instance of credit fraud, either. In December 2013, a Texas man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraudulent renewable fuel credits. Greenwire reports that David Gunselman

“…pleaded guilty to 51 counts of wire fraud, 24 counts of money laundering and four counts of making false statements in violation of the Clean Air Act. He confessed to peddling $42 million worth of fake credits between September 2010 and October 2011 to refiners and brokers for fuel that was never produced at his facility in Lubbock, Texas.”

In another case, a Maryland man, Rodney Hailey, was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for fraudulent renewable fuel credits. Hailey sold $9 million in fake credits and, as the Baltimore Sun reports, he was found guilty of “eight counts of wire fraud, 32 counts of money laundering and two counts of violating the Clean Air Act.”

Despite these clear examples of abuse, fraud and corruption, more candidates for pollution trading scams come down the pipeline every day. Take offsets, for example. These mechanisms, used in California’s cap-and-trade market for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), allow a polluter to buy an emissions reduction (the offset credit) made outside of the California market and count this toward their required reductions, instead of reducing emissions at the source. In other words, offsets allow a polluter to pay to keep on polluting at the source while claiming an emissions reduction elsewhere.

These offset credits can be generated from forestry, livestock and other projects, and are obligated by law to meet six requirements: the offsets must be real, additional, quantifiable, enforceable, permanent and verifiable. However, often times it is incredibly difficult to prove that an offset meets all of these requirements, especially permanence and additionality — proving additionality means showing that emissions reductions would not have happened without the offset project and the reductions are in addition to business as usual — because offsets are inherently flimsy as a legitimate method of reducing GHG emissions.

Offsets are such a substandard “solution” that a court case was brought against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) challenging their use of carbon offsets and how the CARB determines that offsets are, in fact, additional.

The court ruled, albeit misguidedly, against the challengers, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, and in favor of the CARB, concluding that “…to require unequivocal proof of ‘additionality’ for each project would impose an unattainable threshold—a standard few if any projects could satisfy and to argue this was the intent of the legislature is purely ‘pedantic’.” Translation: proving and meeting the requirement of additionality is essentially unattainable and, according to the court, unnecessary

The trail of failed and substandard pollution trading programs including Los Angeles’ Rule 1610 and RECLAIM, the U.S. Acid Rain Program, the European Union Emissions Trading System (EUETS) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), continues to gain new members despite obviously systemic defects.

It is clear that our policy-makers have chosen to blatantly disregard the failures of pollution trading initiatives. However, history does not have to repeat itself. We must demand that our representatives uphold the Clean Air Act, enforcing that fouling our air is illegal, rather than allowing polluters to pay-to-pollute our common resources with impunity. Stop the cycle of insanity. Our future demands it.

April 1st, 2015

Antibiotic Resistance: Why Senator Michael Bennet is on the Wrong Path

Jeremy, of Denver, is one of millions of Americans who have struggled with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

by Lisa Trope

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet can help protect the health of all Americans by sponsoring the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA), a bill seeking to curb dangerous factory farming practices that undermine the effectiveness of the hammer in our medical toolkit – antibiotics. While Senator Bennet has recently introduced a bill to streamline the approval of new antibiotics – Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act, or PATH – it doesn’t adequately address the overuse of antibiotics. Unless he changes course and sponsors PARA, stories like Jeremy’s are likely to become more common.

Jeremy, who lives in Denver, was a healthy thirty-two year-old when he found himself in the hospital unable to walk. Earlier that day, while out on his dry cleaning delivery route, he felt a sharp pain in his left knee. An hour later, he was favoring his right leg. After two hours, he was in full limp mode and his knee was red. Four hours passed and “I couldn’t walk on the leg at all,” Jeremy said. “Too much pain when I tried. It’d collapse under my weight.” Which brings us to the hospital.

“I had no cuts, no abrasions, but nonetheless some type of bacteria managed to enter through my knee,” said Jeremy. “The language got medically technical, but what I had was an extremely aggressive bacterial infection in my leg.” Doctors concluded that the bacteria entered Jeremy’s body while he was kneeling in the back of his work truck; they acted quickly, putting Jeremy on antibiotics.

It soon became clear that the antibiotics weren’t working. The infection spread. “Somewhere during the medical melee,” said Jeremy, “a professional conveyed that if they [antibiotics] couldn’t beat the infection, it could mean the loss of my leg. Meaning amputation. It was also conveyed that if it got into my blood stream, then I could die.”

Jeremy couldn’t understand how this all happened so fast. A handful of doctors began the process of mixing antibiotic cocktails that they believed would be the most effective at fighting the infection. In time, the doctors narrowed down the recipe to two antibiotics, with one crowned the eventual winner; to this day the doctors don’t know which one saved Jeremy’s life.

Jeremy is alive and well today, but stories like his have become too common. Why do two million people like Jeremy all across the country fall ill, and 23,000 die each year from infections that for decades have been treated effectively with antibiotics?

What’s the problem?
Antibiotics have long been prescribed improperly to people and livestock animals as a preventive measure. That’s not how they’re supposed to be used. This abuse is creating “superbugs” – bacteria that are not killed off by antibiotics like they once were. That’s why Jeremy’s infection got out of control.

It is shocking that 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are not prescribed to people, but fed in low daily does to animals on factory farms to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. This wrong-headed practice creates the perfect conditions for superbugs to grow, thrive and spread.

PARA is the solution
Senators have introduced a bill to address this growing public health threat. The Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA) would allow farmers to give animals antibiotics when they’re sick, but not on a daily basis in their feed and water. It is critical for the Senate to pass PARA.

Senator Bennet is on the wrong PATH
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet seems concerned about antibiotics, but he’s taken the wrong PATH to solve the problem. Bennet has introduced the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act, or PATH. PATH helps the pharmaceutical industry create new antibiotics by speeding up their approval process. Unless we address the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms, bacteria will continue to develop antibiotic resistance. It will only be a matter of time until new antibiotics become resistant and no longer work for people; the number of people each year who contract and die from antibiotic resistant bacteria could continue to rise.

Tell Senator Bennet to Sponsor PARA
No one should have to go through the scare that Jeremy and millions of other Americans have experienced. In order to protect Coloradans like Jeremy, in order to protect all Americans, Senator Bennet must be a true public health champion and help fix the root of the problem. Take action today to ask Senator Bennet to sponsor PARA to end antibiotic abuse on factory farms.

March 30th, 2015

Detroiters Need an Income-Based Approach to Water Bills

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.ProfileThe water crisis in Detroit is not over. In fact, residential shut-offs are poised to continue this spring. To save lives, and to begin to satisfy the city’s dire water infrastructure needs, Detroit needs to expand the current assistance programs and enact the Water Affordability Plan (WAP) approved by the City Council in 2006. When tens of thousands of people cannot afford utility rates in a region with large income disparities, it is obvious that an income-based approach to water is the only equitable solution.

Let’s back up a bit. A few weeks ago, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) Board of Commissioners voted to increase water and sewer rates for city residents by a combined 12.8 percent, effective July 1 should the City Council seal the deal.

Mayor Mike Duggan and the DWSD developed a 10-point plan offering certain assistance programs in an attempt to help residents pay their water bills. Yet, some 26,000 residential customers still could face water shut-offs this spring, to begin after the department tackles outstanding commercial accounts and the 8,355 households that “illegally” (in other words, desperately) turned their water back on themselves. DWSD will dole out about 800 shut-off notices per day.

Detroiters need affordable water. Water is essential to life and the United Nations has recognized that access to drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right. It’s clear that Mayor Mike Duggan’s current assistance programs are wildly insufficient; they don’t address the systemic problems — like unemployment and cyclic poverty — that are a result of decades of misguided policies, and that inhibit residents from being able to pay their water bills. Put simply they haven’t, and won’t, stop the shut-offs and imminent public health consequences.

Here is why the Water Affordability Plan trumps Detroit’s current assistance programs:


Only a customer whose water is already shut off or faces a pending shut-off qualifies for the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program. Similarly, only people already behind on their water bills qualify for the 10/30/50 payment plan program and assistance from the Detroit Water Fund. Whereas these programs act like a Band-Aid, the WAP is preventative — qualification isn’t contingent on a customer being in payment default. Rather, qualification is determined based on the ratio of a household’s income and utility bill. Under the WAP, a customer can receive help before reaching default, and avoid shut-offs and massive make-up payments altogether.


The existing water assistance program sets payments on a case-by-case basis. This creates a complicated, time-intensive billing process and requires a unique formula for each household. The 10/30/50 Plan requires at least 10 percent upfront on an outstanding balance and then spreads the rest of the balance over 24 months. It does not actually reduce the amount owed. Assistance from the Detroit Water Fund is strictly limited to: Households enrolled in a payment plan, with balances of $300 to $2,000, without any leaks in their homes, with a new meter installed and with household incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The amount of assistance also maxes out at 25 percent of a household’s monthly bill.

However, the WAP uses a “fixed rate approach” which calculates, based on the household’s income, an affordable utility rate. This means less administrative and billing headaches and more incentive for the customer to conserve water. Not to mention the security of this approach: The WAP caps water utility payment at 2.5 percent of monthly income — what the federal government views to be the affordability threshold. This would be a huge relief for Detroit residents, as some families currently spend upwards of 20 percent of their monthly income on water and sewerage.


Under the WAP, a customer would have ample time to apply for and access the program before ever reaching default. In this sense, WAP is more accessible than existing assistance programs. Under the current Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program, qualified residents (those facing shut-offs) have only ten days to either pay the default or to apply for and be approved for a payment plan. This tight timeline, noting the mental and physical stress that comes with not having water, might keep residents from accessing Mayor Duggan’s assistance, exacerbating the crisis.

Households can apply for assistance from the Detroit Water Fund at any time if they meet all the criteria, but they receive help only if funding is available. The program depends on donations, which isn’t sustainable. And what’s worse, a household loses access to the 10/30/50 Plan and the Detroit Water Fund assistance if it falls behind on its monthly payments more than three times. These existing programs clearly do not reflect the economic reality of many Detroiters, who are living hand-to-mouth and whose livelihoods can be compromised by even minor illnesses or car troubles.

It’s past time to embrace an income-based approach to water bills that is accessible and preventative. With the upcoming shut-offs and the proposed rate hikes, it’s obvious that the current assistance programs aren’t working for residents or the city. To keep utility payments, and water, flowing, Detroit needs to swiftly and fully enact the original Water Affordability Plan approved by the City Council in 2006.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

March 27th, 2015

Leaked Documents Underscore How TPP Will Provide Special Rights for Corporations

By Patrick Woodall

Patrick Woodall, Research Director and Senior Policy Advocate

Patrick Woodall, Research Director and Senior Policy Advocate

Are you working on state legislation to label genetically modified foods? Or are you working to pass a local ban on fracking? If you are, you’ll want to know what the TPP has in store for you, according to recently uncovered documents.

This week, Wikileaks released the long-secret investment provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that revealed the trade deal would give big business the ability to sue governments for protecting the public interest – confirming our worst fears about the trade deal being pushed by the business community, Republican leadership and the Obama administration.

Senator Elizabeth Warren highlighted the risks of these so-called investor-to-state suits in a Washington Post opinion piece last month, but the release of a current draft of the TPP investment chapter brings these legitimate concerns into sharper focus. These TPP investment provisions provide a new and powerful avenue for foreign corporations to attack commonsense public health, environmental and consumer safeguards as well as effectively rollback any local or state legislation or ordinances that threaten their bottom lines.

The TPP investment language allows foreign companies to challenge federal, state and local laws and regulations that the companies claim “indirectly expropriate” their “reasonable investment-backed expectations.” International investment rules were originally designed to prevent other countries from seizing private property without compensating the owner (by building a highway through a company’s land or nationalizing a factory). But the TPP’s indirect expropriation language expands that idea to allow corporations to sue (for financial damages) over rules and regulations that curb dangerous or abusive business practices (like pollution or financial fraud) or even require companies to provide sensible disclosure (like food labels).

So far, the United States has been sued but not faced a penalty under these investment cases, but that is because our trade deals have been primarily with countries in the developing world with few investments in the United States. The TPP would empower major companies from New Zealand, Australia and Japan with new rights to attack federal and local laws. If the companies prevail in these suits, the government defendants (either national or local) could be forced to pay damages for harming expected earnings. Already international trade tribunals have already awarded $3.6 billion to foreign investors that brought successful investor-to-state corporate lawsuits under NAFTA and other U.S. trade deals, according to Public Citizen.

A measure to prevent pollution (like a local fracking ban) would indirectly expropriate the anticipated future profits from fracking, so a foreign drilling firm could sue for damages. One natural gas company has already challenged a fracking moratorium in the Canadian province of Quebec under NAFTA’s investment provisions. These corporate lawsuits have an especially chilling effect on communities that want to protect their citizenry but lack the resources to defend against a colossal corporate lawsuit, including the more than 250 localities (including New York state) that have banned or imposed moratoriums on fracking.

The leaked investment text highlights the total lack of transparency in the TPP negotiations. It even includes a provision that keeps the investment chapter confidential until four years after the TPP goes into effect. If these special rights for corporate interests are so beneficial, why keep it classified?

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