Schumer and Pelosi Must Reject Privatization in Infrastructure Proposals

White House-approved deal would hand public infrastructure over to Wall Street profiteers

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Clean Water

Over 200 organizations released a letter to key Senate and House leaders urging them to oppose any provisions in the pending infrastructure proposals that would pave the way for the privatization of water. 

The letter, organized by the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, warns that the bipartisan Senate framework championed by the White House “would promote a slew of privatization activities,” including public-private partnerships, private activity bonds and ‘asset recycling.’ This approach amounts to a “Wall Street takeover of essential services like public water.”

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Sanders, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth. It was signed by national organizations like AFSCME AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Center for Biological Diversity, Family Farm Defenders, Friends of the Earth, and local groups from nearly 40 states.

“This White House-approved infrastructure deal would lead to communities handing over public infrastructure to Wall Street profiteers,” said Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Director Mary Grant. “Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and leave the rest of us to pick up the tab. Communities need real support, like the WATER Act, not sneaky privatization scams.”

The letter points out that as federal funding has fallen dramatically over the past several decades, communities have been forced to depend on either regressive rate hikes or privatization to finance necessary infrastructure improvements. But privatization amounts to an extremely costly form of borrowing — one that requires families and small businesses to pay much more in the long run in the form of higher rates. 

“Our water systems are struggling because the federal government has chosen to divest from water infrastructure,” said Nayyirah Shariff, the Executive Director of Flint Rising. “We have a funding issue. Privatization is not the answer because it will contribute to unaffordable drinking and wastewater bills. We need bold investment that includes grants for our water utilities, like the WATER Act.”

“Privatization, especially asset recycling, isn’t true investment,” said Donald Cohen, the Executive Director of In the Public Interest. “Every public dollar that ends up in the pockets of water corporations and investors is one less dollar we can use to fix America’s crumbling water infrastructure.”

“The U.S. is long overdue for bold federal investment in our public water systems — but the proposal on the table will not get us there. Instead, it promotes privatization schemes dressed up as ‘public-private partnerships’ and ‘asset recycling,’ which create dangerous, avoidable problems and ignore people’s needs,” said Neil Gupta, Associate Research Director at Corporate Accountability. “Water privatization has failed communities across the country and must be rejected in all its forms. We need an infrastructure plan that directly invests federal dollars in communities, keeps water systems in public hands, and equitably addresses our nation’s infrastructure crisis for the long haul — not more corporate handouts.”

The country already faces a water affordability crisis, as the letter notes: “Nearly one in three US households struggles to afford their water and sewer bills, and households nationally have accrued billions of dollars of water debt during the pandemic. They cannot afford the price of privatization.”

Instead of privatization deals that trap communities in costly deals for decades, the letter points to the need to dedicate federal funding to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The most comprehensive funding solution on the table is the WATER Act (HR1352, S916), which would provide $35 billion a year to fully fund our water infrastructure at the level that is needed to address our urgent needs.