Water Shutoff Protections Prevented Covid Infections and Deaths

Categories

Clean Water

As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that water shutoff moratoria are an important public health tool to prevent the spread of disease. 

Since March 2020, 34 states took action to limit water shutoffs during the pandemic, and 20 of these states imposed comprehensive moratoria that apply to all water systems. The research found that these statewide protections prevented Covid infections and deaths. 

Despite the Delta wave increasing cases and hospitalizations across the country, nearly all of these shutoff protections have expired. Only California, New Jersey and Washington have comprehensive moratoria still in place, and both California’s and Washington’s moratoria expire at the end of the month. The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs had significantly lower growth rates for COVID infections and deaths.

“This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by COVID pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families,“ said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: Debt forgiveness with a moratorium on shutoffs through the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act and a massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Long-term, Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

“Our model uses more than 12 thousand data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of COVID-19 infection and deaths,” said Dr. Xue Zhang, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell. “Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates. We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future.”

“Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic,” said Dr. Mildred E. Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell University. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. At the peak of protection, in June 2020, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of 2020, just 12 states had a moratorium in place, and 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered. This total included 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile, which are the households most at risk of having their service shut off.

Congress has provided limited support for water access in the infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. Although the House Energy & Commerce Committee seeks an additional $500 million in the federal budget to the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, there are no shutoff protections attached to the funding. Advocates continue to call for the passage of the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, from Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to eliminate utility debt accrued during the moratoria and extend shutoff protections through the recovery period. 

In Response to Lawsuit, EPA Pledges to Strengthen Slaughterhouse Water Pollution Standards

Categories

Clean Water

Washington, D.C. — In a victory for clean water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it will update water pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry following a December 2019 lawsuit from community and conservation organizations.

“It’s a great first step that EPA has decided to finally modernize the standards for meat and poultry plants across the country, which had not been updated since at least 2004,” said Sylvia Lam, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We now expect EPA to let us know when they plan to propose updated standards to protect our waterways and communities, since the current limits are allowing an excessive amount of pollution.”

Earthjustice attorney Alexis Andiman added: “Slaughterhouses are leading sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and their pollution disproportionately harms under-resourced communities, low-income communities, and communities of color.  We applaud EPA for recognizing that it’s time to update the outdated standards governing pollution from slaughterhouses.  Together with our partners, we look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the new standards adequately protect people and the environment.”

“We are glad that the EPA will finally strengthen its outdated, unprotective water pollution standards for the slaughterhouse industry. These facilities are a major source of pollution in communities across the country,” said Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen. “But our work is far from over – we will participate in EPA’s rulemaking and are prepared to hold the agency accountable if its new standards again fall short of protecting communities directly impacted by water pollution.” 

In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, EPA announced that it will initiate a rulemaking process to reduce pollution from three industries: Meat and poultry processing plants, which include slaughterhouses; metal finishing businesses; and manufacturers of organic chemicals that discharge polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Along with its announcement, EPA reported that 74 percent of slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into rivers and streams are within one mile of under-resourced communities, low-income communities, or communities of color.

“This finding makes it even more imperative for EPA to issue standards that protect the public as soon as possible,” said Lam.

In December 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit against EPA on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States, and Waterkeeper Alliance. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s prior refusal to modernize pollution standards for slaughterhouses, in light of evidence demonstrating that revision is necessary.

More than 8 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle are processed each year in more than 7,000 slaughterhouses across the country. An estimated 4,700 of these slaughterhouses discharge polluted water to waterways, including the iconic Chesapeake Bay, either directly or indirectly through municipal sewage treatment plants.

The federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to set industry-wide water pollution standards for slaughterhouses and other industries and to review those standards each year to decide whether updates are appropriate to keep pace with advances in pollution-control technology.

During the Trump Administration, EPA announced that it would not revise the federal water pollution standards for slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into waterways, and it would not create standards for slaughterhouses that send their pollution to sewage plants before discharging into rivers or streams. This is despite the fact that EPA identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of nitrogen water pollution without updated standards.

An October 2018 report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” reviewed the records of 98 meat and poultry processing plants across the U.S. and found that the median facility released an average of 331 pounds of total nitrogen per day into local rivers and streams, about as much as the amount contained in in raw sewage from a town of 14,000 people.

Many slaughterhouses released far more, with the JBS USA pork processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, for example, releasing 1,849 pounds of nitrogen a day in 2017 to an Illinois River tributary—equivalent to the load in raw sewage from a city of 79,000 people. This showed that the national standards were no longer driving the industry to reduce its water pollution, as intended by the Clean Water Act.

In its September 8 announcement, EPA also identified slaughterhouses as the largest industrial source of phosphorus water pollution in the nation. Moreover, EPA expressed a need to develop pretreatment standards for slaughterhouses—finding that 73 percent of local sewage plants that receive wastewater from slaughterhouses have violated pollution limits in their Clean Water Act permits for pollutants found in slaughterhouse effluent.

Long-Term Cumberland Sewer Deal Would Violate State Laws

Categories

Clean Water

A national clean water advocacy organization sent a letter to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners today warning them that their efforts to monetize the county sewer system appears on its face to violate several state laws.

The letter, sent by Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan on August 12, outlines several deficiencies with the county’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Specifically, the letter cautions that any long-term financing plan for the utility would have to allow for public bidding unless it was for less than ten years and received approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Longer contracts would also require the utility to follow the legal requirements of providing public notice of a contract, public meetings, and the solicitation of additional proposals. The law requires the passing of a resolution approving a contract, as well as a review by the state’s Division of Local Government Services (DLGS)

The county issued a revised RFQ in June, but the same legal problems are evident.

Once the county’s plan came to light, local residents voiced strong opposition to what many see as nothing more than a rapid bid to privatize a public asset. 

“This rushed process is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We know what comes next under these kinds of privatization deals: Higher rates and a lower quality of service. Cumberland County should heed these warnings and listen to residents who are alarmed by this speedy privatization scheme.”

The Food & Water Watch letter notes in closing that “the Revised RFQ skirts statutory requirements applicable to the private financing of wastewater services. CCUA should not rush to approve an unlawful contract, and it should instead follow the procedures set forth under state law to ensure meaningful community input and public involvement.”

EPA Should Rewrite Trump’s Awful Rule And Help States Protect Their Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Adam Carlesco

In the fight to protect our waters from reckless permitting by the federal government, the drafters of the Clean Water Act (CWA) ensured that state governments had the authority to deny federal permits for infrastructure projects that violate state laws. This authority comes from Section 401 of the CWA and has allowed states to block a number of oil and gas pipelines, like the Northeast Supply Enhancement project, due to the harm they’d cause to state water. This authority is a vital tool in stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in states with strong climate goals and the preservation of this power is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Trump’s Administration Wrote A Bad Clean Water Act Rule, And Biden’s EPA Must Fix It

For the past four decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has understood that states have broad discretion in how they review whether a project will significantly impact a waterbody within its borders. But in July 2020 the Trump administration finalized a major regulatory change that hastened state and tribal authorities’ timelines for reviewing such projects. Making things worse, it also severely limited the factors that state agencies could consider when deciding whether to certify a project. It’s clear that this rule was enacted to stop states like New York from protecting water people depend on for life. If this rule isn’t rewritten, it will lead to more oil and gas pipelines being approved without critical state review.

Understanding this, the Biden Administration has directed EPA to review the 2020 CWA §401 Certification Rule for legal deficiencies and amend the rule as needed so it aligns with the principles of state sovereignty and protects water bodies and the climate. Currently, EPA is considering how it can improve the state certification process and will likely be proposing a new rule in late 2021 or early 2022. To guide that proposal, Food & Water Watch has submitted comments advising the agency on how best to address the dual challenge of climate change and water contamination.

The 2020 Trump Rule Wholly Undermines The Spirit And Intent Of The Clean Water Act

Under the 2020 Trump Rule, EPA shortened timelines for states to review a project’s compliance with state law, requiring the timeframe for review to begin immediately when a developer submits an application – even if lacking vital information. Going forward, the EPA must amend this so the clock starts only once a state certifying authority deems an application administratively complete. Also, EPA must allow applicants to voluntarily withdraw their request and resubmit it at a later date when there is inadequate information for a state authority to make an informed final decision. Without that flexibility, this practice will result in more states denying certification to avoid inadvertently waiving their review authority. It is also incredibly important for states to be able to delay certification until the completion of an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The 2020 Rule has also severely narrowed the scope of what review criteria a state can consider when determining whether a project complies with state law. EPA must reiterate that state certification must consider the impacts of any “discharge” as the Clean Water Act requires, not just a “discharge of pollutants” which is a wholly different legal term not present in Section 401 of the statute. Despite the Trump administration’s insistence that Section 401 applies only to “point sources of pollution” (e.g., wastewater coming directly out of a pipe into a river), in actuality, the CWA requires a review of any activity that may result in a discharge, including from non-point sources (e.g., pesticide run-off from golf courses). EPA must correct this gross misreading of the statute if states are to meaningfully assess the full scope of a project’s potential harm.

The damage caused by such shortened timelines and a narrowed scope of review is heightened by the 2020 Rule’s requirements that force states to waive their certification authority if a final decision is not made within EPA’s definition of a “reasonable” period of time or if it contains conditions that EPA objects to. It is of the utmost importance that EPA allows flexibility in its determination of a “reasonable time” for review that allows states to request additional data necessary for informed decision-making, without the looming threat of waiving state certifying authority. 

Moreover, EPA must respect state conditions when approving a project. Conditional approval of a project is meant to allow a project — that would otherwise not be certified — to move forward with strict conditions on approval. Stripping conditions from a conditional certification allows projects to proceed which, without those state-issued conditions, would be in violation of state law. As such, EPA must respect state sovereignty in determining when a project would violate state law without a condition and in determining what a reasonable amount of time is for reviewing a project within the statutory one-year limit.

EPA is anticipated to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking within a few months which the public can comment on. Food & Water Watch will be involved in submitting comments to EPA that call on a robust review process that protects our waters and will be sure to alert our supporters on how they can get involved when a proposed rule is announced.

More people should know about this. Can you share it with friends?

A Note About What’s Next To Protect Waterways:

Protecting the waterways of this nation must be an all-of-government effort. As such, it is important that EPA coordinate their regulatory plans with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as these agencies oversee dredging of waterways and gas pipeline permitting respectively.  Without a coordinated regulatory reform for all three agencies, priorities and legislative interpretations may become conflicted or incompatible, which would result in weakened waterbody protections and uncertainty in permitting for water-crossings of public utility lines, like much-needed water infrastructure.

Rep. Tlaib Introduces Utility Debt Cancellation Bill

Categories

Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC  – Today, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act, which would provide nearly $40 billion to help wipe away household water, power and broadband debt across the country.

With the Delta variant prompting a new COVID surge, this relief is more urgent than ever to stop mounting utility debt and the shutoffs crisis. Studies have found that moratoria on utility shutoffs reduced the spread of COVID and deaths linked to the virus. One study found that a water shutoff moratorium would have prevented 500,000 COVID infections. Unfortunately, those policies have expired in most states, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework in the Senate lacks these vital protections. 

This debt relief and accompanying shutoffs moratorium will go hand-in-hand with CDC’s new eviction moratorium to protect struggling households and help protect against the spread of disease.

“Utility shutoffs – from water to electricity to broadband Internet – leave our most vulnerable communities without essential life sustaining services and are especially unacceptable during a deadly pandemic,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “So many of us have eviction protection on our minds right now. A study showing that low-income Michigan families pay more than 30% of their household income on utility bills alone, creating a direct path to debt and eviction, makes the issue that much more pertinent. We have to break the cycle and ensure folks can keep their lights on, their water running, and the roofs over their head. I’m so grateful for the continued partnership of the Utility Justice coalition who has fought alongside us every step of the way to end the injustice of utility shutoffs in this country.”

 The legislation provides $13.5 billion for water debt, $13 billion for electricity debt and another $13 billion for broadband internet debt. It also establishes reporting requirements about disconnections and arrears. 

More than 275,000 people have petitioned for a utility shutoff moratorium since the beginning of the pandemic. 

“Families across the country have accrued billions of dollars in water debt during this pandemic, and now, as we are in the midst of another COVID surge, they are suffering water shutoffs, a life-threatening injustice that must be stopped,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “Communities urgently need the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act to keep the water, power, and broadband on and forgive crushing household utility debt. We applaud Rep. Tlaib for her leadership on this legislation.”

​​”Congresswoman Tlaib’s Utility Debt Relief bill is a great example of legislation that centers economic and racial justice to support local recovery and prosperity,” said Juan Jhong-Chung of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. “Low-income communities and communities of color in Detroit continue to be impacted by systemic racism, pollution, and the COVID pandemic. How can investor-owned utilities make record profits while our families struggle to pay monthly bills? We cannot build back better if we leave the most vulnerable behind.” 

“Not just as an organizer with Soulardarity, but as a consumer and a resident of Highland Park, I know how important it is that our communities get some kind of debt relief for energy, because when you’re without power, or you’re worried about being shut off because you don’t have the finances, you are constantly in stress,” said Michelle Jones, Energy Democracy Fellowship Coordinator with Soulardarity in Highland Park, Michigan. “I’ve been there. It’s not that I didn’t want to pay the bill, it’s that I couldn’t pay the bill. And it was the worst when I was raising my children. Parents need to know that when they need that gas, lights, heat to take care of their families, that it’s there. And to know that our elected leaders have the power to make that available — we need them to take the stress off.” 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it is more essential than ever that people have access to water, electricity, and broadband service. This bill is a critical first step to support low-wealth families and communities of color that have borne the brunt of compounding threats of utility shut-offs and poverty,” said Alissa Weinman, Associate Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability. “This bill would direct sorely needed federal funds towards our water systems. Sustained, long-term federal investments in our infrastructure are necessary to ensure that everyone has access to clean and affordable water.” 

“Congresswoman Tlaib’s debt relief bill will bring economic recovery to vulnerable Kansans who have been taking on the energy burden for too long,” said Climate + Energy Project Program Director Beth Pauley. “The Climate + Energy Project knows we cannot pursue a just transition while so many Kansans are struggling. We need to continue to address the energy poverty crisis by implementing equitable energy efficiency and community solar programs, with impacted communities leading the policies and program implementation. Kansans need to have their basic needs met in order to organize for long term climate solutions.”

“As the pandemic raged, the media and government rallied Americans by proclaiming that we were all in this together. But the reality was harsher. While we were encouraged to move our personal and professional lives online for the sake of public health, millions of us struggled to access our schools, jobs, and government and nonprofit programs because of the lack of affordable broadband access,” said Amy Sample War, the CEO of NTEN. “Broadband is vital to our lives in 21st century America. To turn off someone’s access is to say their participation in society isn’t needed or wanted. That’s not just un-American. It’s unconscionable.”

“Low-income New Yorkers average $1000 in utility debt, even as they are struggling under the effects of the pandemic,” said Adam Flint, Director of Clean Energy Programs at the Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow (NEST). “This legislation will help thousands of our neighbors who already suffered from a crushing energy burden prior to the current crisis. Rep. Tlaib’s debt relief bill is an important step, which should be followed by a Green New Deal to address the housing, employment and climate crises our communities face.”

“With the rapid spread of the new COVID variant, we have to prevent another utility shutoffs tsunami that disproportionately harms communities of color,” said Jean Su, Energy Justice Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress should include Rep. Tlaib’s bill in the reconciliation package to ensure that no family is cut off from access to the basic human rights of power, water and broadband. It’s outrageous that private fossil fuel utilities control access to these public goods. We need to invest massively in public community and rooftop-solar solutions to stop the systemic shutoffs crisis. It’s time to empower communities of color, who for too long have borne the brunt of our racist and dirty energy system.”

“Adequate, affordable housing is a human right, and affordable utilities are an essential part of that. Energy infrastructure doesn’t just mean the power lines above us and pipes below us, but the ability for every American to get those utilities into their homes reliably and sustainably,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director, National Homelessness Law Center. “We need Rep. Tlaib’s Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act to ensure the health of our families in their homes, and prevent the evictions and homelessness that could spike further the already exploding Delta variant of the COVID pandemic in our most vulnerable communities. Without this bill, any larger infrastructure action that Congress takes will be incomplete.” 

“We are experiencing two global pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. Rep. Tlaib’s debt relief bill will bring necessary relief to the many Georgians facing economic hardships and mounting utility debt,” said Codi Norred, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light (GIPL). “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over four million Georgians are facing unemployment. As people of faith, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light believes this bill is both the moral and equitable action to take for all Americans. We cannot truly combat the climate crisis and COVID-19 when people are concerned about having air conditioning, heat, water, or gas.”

“Internet service is an essential utility not only in emergencies but all of the time. With COVID cases on the rise again, we don’t know what the coming months hold; but even if kids can go back to school and people can go back to work, an affordable internet connection is still a must,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy for Free Press Action. “Even if the health crisis were further behind us, the economic crises brought on by the pandemic only compounded the crushing debt and discriminatory impacts already faced by millions of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people across the country. Free Press Action thanks Rep. Tlaib for introducing the House version of this important bill, to keep people who are unable to pay for internet service from getting disconnected today or drowned in debt down the line.”

NY Applauds Sen. Schumer as Water Privatization Appears Absent in Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

This week, the Senate and White House released additional details about the bipartisan infrastructure deal moving forward in Congress. As the bipartisan group of senators initially proposed a range of privatization options to fund critical water infrastructure spending, New Yorkers rallied to urge Senator Schumer to reject these scams. The recently released framework suggests that water privatization has been stripped from the infrastructure package, with the remaining privatization incentives limited to transportation projects.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“The absence of water privatization from the most recent bipartisan infrastructure framework  shows that Senator Schumer has listened to New Yorkers. From Long Island to Rockland County, New Yorkers know what it looks like for communities to pay the price of corporate water. We’ve been clear that Senator Schumer must stand up for our families and businesses and keep water privatization off the table. We thank him for his leadership on this issue, and urge him to hold the line and reject water privatization scams as the bill is written.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

We Must Hold Iowa Accountable For Failing To Protect Public Water

Categories

Clean Water

by Emma Schmit

Iowa is in the midst of a water crisis. People across the state are suffering as another year of drought — intensified by climate change — impacts water usage, crop growth, and the development of toxic blue-green algae blooms in our rivers and lakes. Climate change is worsening the already dangerous conditions from upstream factory farms polluting Iowa’s waterways — it’s more critical than ever for the state to take bold, meaningful action to mitigate the risks facing our water.

Iowa Can’t Fix Its Water Problems By Asking Residents To Reduce Consumption

Reduced water consumption — currently recommended by Des Moines Water Works for the capital region — is a simplistic, short-term answer to a complex, long-term problem. Drought is far from the only challenge facing Iowa’s waters. Nearly 60% of the state’s assessed waters are impaired, attesting to issues far greater than a lack of precipitation affecting our waterways. The Raccoon River, which is used to supply over half a million central Iowans with clean drinking water, was named by American Rivers as one of the nation’s ten Most Endangered Rivers

It’s a direct result of the state’s continued failure to address the grave threats confronting the river — namely pollution from factory farms and industrial agriculture. Rather than protecting the water Iowans rely on for drinking and outdoor recreation, our elected officials have allowed massive agribusinesses to run roughshod over our precious — and finite — water resources. The only thing most of our elected officials have offered is industry-dictated false solutions to improve our water quality — and they aren’t working. Voluntary mechanisms, like the industry-backed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, only benefit corporate agribusiness, and Iowa’s water crisis has only worsened since these voluntary measures have been enacted. 

The industry has exerted its outsized influence over our elected officials for too long. That’s why Food & Water Watch & Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement sued the state of Iowa for failing to protect our right to clean water.

The Iowa Supreme Court Makes A Mind Boggling Decision In Our Case Against Iowa

On June 18, the Iowa Supreme Court released its decision in our case, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa. By a slim 4-3 majority, the Court dismissed the case. Former director of the Drake Agriculture Law Center, Neil Hamilton, published a thorough breakdown of the ruling. Like Mr. Hamilton, we found the Court’s decision to dismiss misguided, as it was based on claims that it is not their responsibility to “hold the State accountable to the public.” 

“If it is not the role of the Iowa Supreme Court to hold the State accountable to the public, then who does have that role?”

— Neil Hamilton, Agricultural Law Expert

Great question.

We have 18,400 members in Iowa. We are committed on their behalf to exhausting all options to protect Iowa’s people, communities, and environment. On July 1st, we filed a petition for reconsideration with the Iowa Supreme Court requesting that the four-justice majority re-examine their ruling. While it is uncommon for such petitions to be granted, in a Court decision as divided as this, we believe we have an obligation to our members and the people of Iowa to do everything we can to fight for our right to clean water. 

A Moratorium On New Factory Farms Is The Only Fix For Iowa’s Water Issues 

Through the lawsuit, we hoped to establish a clear, actionable path forward to ensure the water we use for drinking, cooking, swimming, fishing, and recreating is reliable, safe, and clean. A win in the lawsuit would have replaced failed, voluntary half-measures for waterway cleanup with a demand that the state institute mandatory practices to reduce the harmful levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa’s waterways. To effectively cut back on these polluting nutrients, the state would need to implement a moratorium on new factory farms in the Raccoon River watershed to limit the already exorbitant amount of manure runoff occurring as a result of more than 750 factory farms producing billions of gallons of waste each year. 

We know the future of our state’s water will be bleak if we continue down the current path. We cannot continue to allow the unabated growth of unsustainable, polluting factory farms fed by industrial monoculture crop production if we hope to see thriving communities, economies, and environments in Iowa’s future. We must build a new path that puts the needs of our communities, our drinking water, and our people before the bank accounts of massive agribusinesses. 

It’s time we get real. Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going away. The dismissal of our case is certainly a setback, but we’re going to keep fighting to hold our elected officials accountable to us — their constituents. We will keep up the pressure on the legislature to take real, meaningful steps to protect us. We’ll keep advocating for bold solutions to this crisis. And we’ll keep working to break the stranglehold corporate agriculture has on our political system.

Help us guarantee we all have access to clean water for generations to come. Send a message to Iowa’s leadership!

House Passes Sweeping PFAS “Forever Chemical” Regulation

Categories

Clean Water

Washington D.C. – Today the House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Act of 2021, jumpstarting regulations for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the toxic lab-made chemicals that have been posing major health risks to communities across the country for decades. Among its provisions, the legislation would require the EPA to set drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, the two most studied PFAS chemicals, and would designate these as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund program to facilitate the cleanup of toxic sites. The legislation, H.R. 2467, passed in a vote of 241-183.

Studies have found that long-term exposure to PFAS is associated with many health problems, including liver malfunction, birth defects, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and certain cancers. PFAS has been found in the blood of 97 percent of people in the United States and in human breast milk, and more than 200 million people in the country could be drinking PFAS-contaminated water. 

In response to today’s vote,  Food & Water Action Public Water For All Campaign Director Mary Grant said:

“We applaud the House of Representatives for passing this critical legislation to finally begin regulating toxic PFAS chemicals and prevent drinking water contamination. There is no more time for delay when it comes to enacting a thorough plan to remove these chemicals from our drinking water with enforceable regulations, and ensure the biggest polluters are held accountable for cleaning up their rampant contamination. 

“The Senate must not compromise when it comes to protecting people from toxic chemicals in their water. The Senate must pass the PFAS Action Act of 2021, and reject any attempt to weaken the legislation. Communities have waited too long already. It is past time for the Senate to pass this critical legislation. Our country deserves clean water – nothing less.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Cumberland County Privatization Scheme Could Lead to Decades of Trouble

Categories

Clean Water

A national advocacy organization is warning that a highly flawed proposal to enter into a 30-year concession or asset sale of the Cumberland County sewer system would leave local families paying higher rates for decades.

Food & Water Watch — which is based in Washington, DC and has a New Jersey office — raised a host of concerns with the proposal in a recent memo to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners.

The proposed deal has sparked an intense controversy in the community over the past two months, leading CCUA executive director G. Steve Errickson to announce his resignation last  month, saying that the frenzied push to secure a deal has “made it impossible for me to continue to do my job.”

The CCUA issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to study monetization of the authority, shortly after receiving an unsolicited proposal from the private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners. The rushed proposal would represent a major change in the financial structure of the CCUA — and one that could cost ratepayers millions of dollars over decades.

“Local residents have been shocked by this proposal, and rightly so. This is a recipe for decades of disaster,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Jocelyn Sawyer. “We already know what comes next under these kinds of privatization deals: Higher rates and a lower quality of service. Cumberland County should heed these warnings and listen to the residents who are alarmed by a rushed privatization scheme.” 

As Food & Water Watch warned in its memo, the CCUA’s solicitation is heavily tilted in favor of privatization: “The first task under the scope of work explicitly requests responders to ‘design a program to allow the CCUA to leverage private sector expertise to plan, engineer, finance, construct, and operate water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.’” 

In another highly unusual move, the solicitation essentially invites conflicts of interest from corporate interests that would be seeking the privatization contract itself, which “dangerously opens the door to allow a corporation or private equity firm to evaluate its own proposal for a 30-year concession deal or asset sale.”

A privatization scheme of the sort under consideration in Cumberland County is essentially an incredibly expensive loan. A company would offer upfront fees in exchange for decades of operating income — meaning that the homeowners and small businesses will be the ones to pay off the deal for decades to come in the form of rate hikes necessary to ensure the private equity firm’s profits. 

Other communities have learned these lessons the hard way. Residents of the city of Bayonne have experienced diminished service and 50 percent rate hikes since a 2012 concession deal, with more years of pain to come. Middletown, Pennsylvania has tried without success to exit a lopsided concession deal that has even seen residents paying penalties for conserving their water usage. 

“Considering this rushed proposal is moving forward without any justification of a needs assessment, we’re concerned that our community will be saddled with the same rate increases that other communities have suffered,” said Sandy Acevedo, a county resident and member of Cumberland County Sewer Rate Watch. “We’re urging our elected officials to act by recognizing the financial burden this will place on the entire CCUA residential and business communities, stop the RFQ.”

60 New York Organizations Call on Sen. Schumer to Champion Public Water Funding, Pass WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

New York, NY — More than 60 New York organizations from across the state sent a letter to Senator Schumer today urging him to include the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability Act (WATER Act) of 2021 in any Congressional infrastructure legislation. The letter comes as a group of senators have floated a bipartisan proposal that would jeopardize water infrastructure investment in favor of costly privatization schemes. The letter was facilitated by the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, and signed by groups including NAACP New York State Conference, Riverkeeper, New York Communities for Change, PUSH Buffalo, the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the New York State Parent Teacher Association.

From PFAS and lead contamination to leaky pipes, New York’s aging water systems highlight the urgent need for investment in water infrastructure at levels only the federal government can provide. Recent victories in New York, including the community-led movement to institute  a public takeover of American Water’s private water system on Long Island, highlight the importance of rejecting privatization schemes.

In the letter, community, environmental, faith-based and student groups from across New York urged Senator Schumer to champion the WATER Act, which ensures permanent federal funding to promote safe, affordable public water for New York and the nation. The letter states that in New York alone, the WATER Act would provide roughly $2.4 billion towards our water needs each year, create nearly 40,000 jobs, and generate over $7 billion in economic output.

“This is not a moment for watered-down compromises and privatization schemes. We are fast approaching a water crisis of epic proportions, should we fail to use this infrastructure investment opportunity to double down on investment in our water systems,” said Eric Weltman, Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer. “Senator Schumer must listen to the New Yorkers who have been mobilizing for years, raising the alarm on PFAS contamination in our drinking water, and coordinating community-led movements to municipalize water systems. It’s time to reject privatization schemes, and embrace real solutions to rebuild our nation’s water infrastructure. Senator Schumer must prioritize the passage of the WATER Act.”

“Investing in safer, cleaner water infrastructure that puts people first is a no-brainer. The WATER Act would do just that, helping communities across the country, including the creation of 40,000 jobs right here in New York for Senator Schumer’s own constituents,” said Patrick Houston, Climate & Inequality Campaigns Associate for New York Communities for Change.

“The government has no more basic responsibility to its taxpayers than providing clean, affordable water that is publicly owned and publicly managed for the public’s good.  There is NO place for private monopolies controlling our water infrastructure. ‘Private’ means the shareholders will benefit and not the people. Unfortunately, money for water infrastructure has been declining for decades and this must be stopped now. It appears there is money for every other issue and the life sustaining resource — water — MUST be made a top priority,” said Agatha Nadel, Director of North Shore Concerned Citizens, a Long Island civic group.


“The public has the basic right,and expectation that when they go to turn on the tap their water will be safe and healthy for them to drink. But aging water infrastructure that is worsening due to climate change, dangerous unregulated contaminants like PFAS, and a toxic industrial legacy jeopardize that basic right. There is nothing more essential to life than water, which is why the federal infrastructure package should include bold policies like the WATER Act,” said Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]