Hundreds of people gathered outside the White House last week before Trump’s address to Congress to remind him that they’re resisting his divisive agenda. In the disastrous first month of his presidency, Trump’s policies have targeted women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community and immigrants — not to mention our environment. In his speech, he doubled down on fossil fuels and rolling back regulations that industry doesn’t like.
Now, he’s also coming for our water.
In his speech, Trump promised to launch a new program to rebuild and repair our crumbling infrastructure. However, true to his limited, yet troubling track record, his plan will mostly benefit his corporate cronies, doing nothing to help America. In fact, it may just divide us even more.
Not surprisingly, his plan is nothing short of a privatization scam — a give-away to big banks — the ones that were “too big to fail” but failed nonetheless. It would give massive tax breaks to Wall Street investors and corporations to privatize our water systems and other critical infrastructure, leading to rate hikes and job loss, while sacrificing transparency and accountability. It will do nothing for cash-strapped cities like Flint, Mich., whose water is still not safe to drink without a proper filter (after nearly three years) nor will it help those who rely on wells and septic tanks.
Like his other policies and proposals, his plan is pure smoke and mirrors — designed to give the illusion of action and progress, while ultimately doing nothing but empowering corporations. That’s why we’re resisting it.
But we do need a drinking water infrastructure plan. Since 1977, federal per capita spending on water infrastructure has plummeted by 82 percent. Without federal support, communities cannot afford to maintain and repair aging water systems, many of which in the U.S. are over a century old.
Deteriorating water pipes can lead to unsafe water, as we saw in Flint. Inadequate funding also leads to more expensive water service, as the burden of compensating for decreased federal funding often falls on rate payers.
But water is a human right, and our government has a moral imperative to help provide it — at rates that everyone can afford to pay. Water infrastructure may not make headlines the way that assaults on reproductive freedom, deportation threats, or border walls do — but a national water crisis looms. Flint is not the first community to be poisoned by its drinking water, nor will it be the last, particularly, we believe, if Trump’s plan is enacted.
Water infrastructure is also significant in that it reflects the greater moral crisis that Trump’s election has inflicted. With his proposed plan, the appointment of Rex Tillerson and Scott Pruitt to the cabinet and proposed cuts to EPA staff and programs, Trump is telling us that his administration does not value critical resources like air or water.
Many Americans — nearly 12 percent, according to one recent study — cannot afford their current service rates. Moreover, many of the cities and towns experiencing water challenges are heavily comprised of economically disadvantaged households and people of color. Water contamination, unaffordable utility bills and lack of basic services disproportionately affect those two groups. But Trump’s plan is unlikely to help vulnerable communities, who will continue to suffer.
Unaffordable water service can tear families apart. Lack of running water can be a reason that parents and other guardians lose custody of children. Lack of water access in the home may be considered child neglect in 21 states and water shutoffs have led to children being taken from their homes under child protection laws.
We cannot support policies that undermine families and communities. These are not true American values.
The movement to resist Trump’s agenda is also about ensuring social, environmental and economic justice for all. When he promotes policies to rip immigrants from their homes, to gut key environmental protections or to encourage corporations to exploit our water, he is assaulting American communities and dividing the people.
He’s saying that poor people don’t count — that they should just go without water. Such a plan will violate their human rights.
Congress can do its part by rejecting any infrastructure plans that encourage Wall Street or corporations to control our water systems.
It should instead implement its own plan, one that keeps water under public control, and that ensures universal service affordability and clean water for all. Protecting this essential resource should be the ultimate American value. That’s something we should all unite around.
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch.
The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.