Intellectual water/sewer dishonesty

Intellectual water/sewer dishonesty

There’s something quite critical missing in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer story detailing opposition to suburban municipal water and sewerage systems being sold to private companies.

The crux of the story, as per the newspaper:

“Grassroots campaigns have emerged in several towns around Philadelphia opposing sales of municipal water and wastewater systems, energized by distrustful residents who fear their towns are trading a one-time cash windfall for perpetual higher sewer rates under private owners.”

The story then goes on to detail such proposed and/or scuttled deals in the Greater Philadelphia area. A number of government jurisdictions see selling such systems as a way to raise much needed cash for more core government responsibilities.

At the same time, they are ridding themselves of what oftentimes has been the headache of keeping water and sewer infrastructure up to date (if not functioning) and, of course, in compliance with growing federal EPA edicts.

But, according to The Inquirer, “Five studies examined by the Government Accountability Office found that average water rates charged by private for-profit utilities are about $15 to $21 higher per month than the rates charged by public water utilities.

“Private utilities have an incentive to generate a return for investors, the GAO said, while public utilities may need to respond to political pressures to keep rates low for all residents.”

Never mind that such political machinations to keep rates low can easily translate into a system left to fall into rot and disrepair. Think of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, for one.

But also think of what’s missing in this discussion: There is no mention that, whether publicly held or privately run, the state Public Utility Commission rides herd over rates.

Such an omission disserves the debate.

And how tragic it is that the very same activists rallying against privatization of water and sewer systems are so blindly willing to keep them in the hands of the very governments that ran them into the ground.

Talk about intellectual dishonesty.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).