According to just-leaked documents, Donald Trump’s team has pulled together a national priority list of 50 major infrastructure projects that taxpayers could subsidize through a Wall Street giveaway. On his list are two corporate water supply projects: Poseidon’s expensive, energy-intensive desalination plant and Cadiz’s water bank – both set to privatize water resources and profit from droughts in California.
We’ve learned over and over again that turning over control of essential services to corporate profiteers leads to disaster. For a taste of the problems that Trump’s plans could cause, consider the case of Rockland County, New York.
In Rockland County, the local arm of French multinational Suez is billing residents and businesses millions of dollars for a desalination plant it never built. Two weeks ago, the state government agency that exists to help consumers mostly blessed this ratepayer rip-off.
This scandalous story goes back over a decade. In 2006, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) told the water company (then called United Water), which owns and operates the county water system, that the possibility of water shortages required a long-term strategy. The most efficient solution would have been a comprehensive conservation plan. But encouraging people to use less water doesn’t increase profits, and that’s a problem for a company looking to make money — and lots of it — from providing an essential service.
So, United Water proposed a massive desalination plant on the Hudson River. Desalination plants are expensive, energy-intensive treatment systems to remove salt and minerals from water. This move was immediately controversial with residents and community activists, who saw it as dangerous and unworkable.
They were right to be worried. Private water companies like Suez have left a trail of broken promises and botched service in cities around the country, from Camden, New Jersey to Atlanta to Gary, Indiana. Cost overruns and safety problems have plagued communities where the companies have been active. That’s par for the course when it comes to corporate control of water.
In Rockland County, the community got organized. The Rockland Water Coalition formed to combat the proposal and support more sustainable conservation measures. The coalition won a huge victory in 2015, when the plan to build the desalination plant was scrapped. But Suez wasn’t done with is schenanigans. The company backed out of participating in the county’s Task Force on Water Resources Management, and then moved to attempt to “recover” some of the costs it claims to have run up for the plant it never built.
And in late January the PSC, whose members are appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, decided to allow Suez to 'recover' more than $50 million for something it did not build. Because of the Rockland Water Coalition’s efforts, the state required the company to implement stronger conservation measures. Peggy Kurtz of the Rockland Water Coalition explained, "After nine years of striving by the community for the strongest conservation plan possible, the modified program is a step forward but should be stronger to achieve the gains that are needed, and we are extremely disappointed that the PSC has allowed recovery of the full $54 million in desalination costs plus profit, all charged to the community."
The outrageous bailout is a sign of things to come under the Trump administration. His infrastructure plan would give corporate handouts to companies like Suez to build boondoggles like this failed desalination plant. We all pay when Wall Street controls our water.
Congress members need to resist Trump’s corporate infrastructure plan. Trump’s scheme to fix America’s crumbling roads and rebuild our aging water systems amounts to a massive tax break to water corporations and Wall Street — money they don’t deserve to do work that should be under public control.