So much for ‘socio-H2O justice’

So much for ‘socio-H2O justice’

A letter to the editor in the Post-Gazette bemoans what it considers to be Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s “reversal” regarding “public-private partnerships” in the delivery of municipal services.

After all, the letter writer notes:

“In 2019, Mr. Peduto signed a pledge that he ‘support(s) a ban on the privatization of water and sewage services in Pittsburgh that includes public-private partnerships (PPP) that remove significant decision-making power from publicly accountable officials.’”

That was at a time when Peduto adamantly opposed any efforts to remove city control of the long moribund (and long politically manipulated) Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA).

Though Peduto, apparently for the record, continues to oppose PWSA privatization or partnering, if his thinking has evolved on public-private partnerships otherwise, that’s a good, not a bad, thing.

Of course, “progressives” do funny things when their “progressivism” founders, as it always does.

That said, the letter writer goes on to generalize the case against water privatization and/or public-private partnerships with blanket statements that don’t pass the scholarly snuff test. This is especially troubling – yet fully predictable — considering the writer self-identifies “as a sociologist who studies water privatization.”  

To wit:

“Numerous studies show that privatization of water means higher rates and lower quality water. This has contributed to a trend of remunicipalization (returning public services that were privatized to public control). Pittsburgh already had a failed experience with a PPP that contributed to the current problems with our water (including lead contamination). …

“(W)ater privatization (including and especially PPPs) never works out to the benefit of the people. Let’s not forget the lessons of the past,” the writer concludes.

Nor the lessons of scholarly research that don’t fit with the writer’s politicized notions of what we’ll call “socio-H20 justice.”

For the record, the PWSA past failed PPP hardly was a major player in its long-running failures, including lead contamination.

That problem, and others, pre-dated efforts to fix the authority, long held in the grips of patronage-minded pols who, instead of regularly upgrading the system, raided its coffers. Now they, and customers, are paying a steep price.

Acton Institute scholar Louie Ginzak notes it is of no help to limit options “when searching for the most efficient and cost-effective solutions for providing a clean, sanitary and abundant source of water.”

Critics of water privatization argue that the private systems fall short of “social equity” in supplying water and charge higher prices. While there have been unsuccessful stories of privatization (and for various reasons), there also have been many successes.

“And, as The Economist (magazine) has noted, when private utilities charge higher prices, that often corresponds to higher rehabilitation investments, better water quality and better service,” Ginzak says.

Further notes the researcher, privatization – when done in an open and transparent bidding process and at the local level – also will promote the decentralization of government and remove the control of water out of the hands of corrupt bureaucrats.

And do remember that the conveyance of water to the public would continue to be, as is the case with government conveyance, regulated by the state Public Utility Commission.

Those continuing to advocate for the same-old, same-old of “government water” in Pittsburgh are ignoring decades of government failure.

Where’s the “social equity“ or “socio-H20 justice” in that?

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (