It is 2017 and we have a new president of the United States. Within the first few weeks of his administration, Donald Trump has already exercised a variety of executive orders. Generally speaking, Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc. does not take a political stance on issues. Keeping with that tradition, this statement is not designed to sway political support. However, due to these unprecedented changes being made, we are compelled to report the facts and identify how the changes are a potential threat to our work and education about water in the U.S. and around the world. And, as always, we encourage you to take action if you feel as passionate about recognizing and solving water problems as we do.
Below, are some of the actions the new administration has taken (or is trying to take) that could threaten the realization of our vision of water being carefully valued as a basic necessity of life:
- Freezing the EPA and therefore halting funding to thousands of programs and research efforts
- The EPA contracts with numerous companies who research and try to solve our environmental issues ($1.36B in 2016)
- The EPA also awards grants to state and local park and natural resource organizations ($3.92B in 2016)
2. Appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic ,non-scientist and someone who sued the EPA fourteen times during the Obama administration, as the head of the EPA
- “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.” said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research and advocacy organization. (source)
3. Through the Congressional Review Act, revoked a coal mining rule that was introduced in December by the Department of the Interior. The rule was designed to “…protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby waters.” (source)
4. “An America First Energy Plan” outlined on the white house’s webpage, says “it is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” (source)
5. Asked the Energy Department for a list of “climate-change workers” without saying why they needed it
There are a couple issues that we want to cover in more detail below.
Privatization of public infrastructure
The new administration is pushing for public infrastructures (like water and sewer) to be replaced with private firms in light of many local governments not having the money to make needed repairs. On the surface, this may seem like a good idea. Private corporations often have larger budgets and would likely be able to make the repairs the governments cannot afford. However, looking at past examples, the residents are the ones who end up paying more without seeing much of an improvement (or even a dangerous decline, as we saw in Flint, MI) in service or quality. A recent New York Times investigative report found that although these private firms may make improvements, they also make profits up to 20%, while the water bills of residents increase dramatically.
Water rates in Bayonne, NJ have risen nearly 28 percent since Kohlberg Kravis Roberts – one of Wall Street’s most storied private equity firms – teamed up with another company to manage the city’s water system, the Times analysis shows. City officials also promised residents a four-year rate freeze that never materialized. (source)
Unlike traditional economic theory of supply and demand, which will eventually level out prices accordingly, in the case of clean water, demand is infinite, so the balance is shifted and prices can increase dramatically. Similar to Bayonne, Rockland County, NY is also experiencing the negative side effects of the privatization of water infrastructure. Mostly owned by Suez North America (a subsidiary of Suez Environment out of France), Rockland’s water system is not much better than it once was despite residents paying higher prices.
Its [Suez’s] management has been marred by persistent complaints of deferred maintenance, understaffing, low water pressure, service interruptions, metallic tastes, bad smells and brown, unusable water, to which the company has been less than responsive. (source)
Things have gotten so bad that residents of Rockland County are organizing a “Take Back Our Water” campaign. Specifically driven by making profit, there are certain goods that should not be in the hands of private firms, and water is one of them.
National Environmental Policy Act expedited review process
There was cause for celebration on December 4, 2016 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned down the permit to begin construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe, which connects to the Missouri River in Northern South Dakota. The main concern over the pipe is the imminent threat to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation water supply (it has a population of more than 8,000 people). Ironically, the path of the pipeline was originally slated to run further north close to Bismarck, ND, but was rerouted due to citizens concerns of jeopardizing their water supply. Indeed, a leak or burst would certainly have significant effects on the Missouri River and surrounding environment. Since 1995, more than 2,000 significant accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have occurred, adding up to roughly $3 billion in property damage. (source)
What made it possible for the project to be put on hold, was a move by the Obama administration to temporarily block construction on all federal land. However, the new Trump administration has vowed to expedite these types of projects and end the “incredibly cumbersome” environmental reviews (specifically referring to the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA). In a New York Times article, Trump was quoted saying:
But it’s [the review process] out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits. (source)
However, the review process was put in place for a reason. It provides a checks and balances approach to projects that significantly (or have potential to) affect our environment. The process normally takes about a year, but there is pressure to get it down to just 60 days. Find more details about the review process here.
In closing, we feel the actions taken by the new administration could have direct and indirect negative impacts on the world we envision living in at Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc. If you feel the same concern we do, please take the following action:
- Contact your representative and tell him/her how you feel
- Visit the Countable website and download the Countable app
- This new website and app allows you quick and easy access to House and Senate Bills being proposed
- In addition, it quickly allows you to email your member of Congress and tell them how you feel
- Follow news and reports from groups like the Environmental Defense Center, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Environmental Working Group
- Talk to friends and family about what has been going on and, if they feel the same, encourage them to take action too.