Category Archives: Utilities

Organizing in Red America

Source: Dissent Magazine, Summer 2017

Articles include:
Left in the Middle
Michael Kazin

….The good news is that a left does exist in Red America—and, amid the failures of the Trump administration, appears to be growing. Its adherents may share, in whole or in part, the cultural proclivities of the more numerous conservatives who live there. But they are arguing and organizing for many of the same demands as are their counterparts in places like New York City and Los Angeles; they are also busy defending the same people at risk from Trump and his allies in Congress and their own states. In this special section of Dissent, you will learn about some of those activists and a few of the politicians who share their goals…..

Working Too Hard for Too Little: An Interview with Senator Sherrod Brown
Michael Kazin

….This spring, the senator issued a lengthy document, “Working Too Hard for Too Little: A Plan for Restoring the Value of Work in America,” which lays out a set of innovative ideas about how to raise wages, make jobs more secure, and compel employers to adhere to decent standards on the job. In late April, Michael Kazin interviewed the senator in his office on Capitol Hill…..

Mississippi Autoworkers Mobilize
Michelle Chen

The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, had high hopes when the state-of-the-art factory complex moved in fourteen years ago to a small, majority black town where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty and decent jobs are scarce. …. After fourteen years at the plant, he says, “People are hurting inside of my factory.” His fellow coworkers have been concerned by what they see as increasingly unstable working conditions and general deterioration in benefits and safety protections. A few years ago they campaigned to organize with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Since then, he says, the workers have faced growing hostility from management for seeking to unionize, which only confirms its disrespect for a community that’s invested decades of public funding and faith in Nissan’s promise of stable manufacturing careers. ….

Birmingham’s Fight For a Living Wage
Scott Douglas

The election of Donald Trump has turned our attention to the politics of white working-class people, particularly in the states that voted for him last fall. But progressives should not ignore the activism of the black working class in many of those same red states. ….

The Next Operation Dixie
Sarah Jaffe

The election of Donald Trump has led to a lot of soul-searching on the left. In particular, the narrative since the election has focused on Trump’s appeal to working people, and whether this reflects an inherent racism among the so-called “white working class” or a failure of liberals and the left to speak to their economic concerns.

While the divide between “red” and “blue” states is often overstated (just ask the Republican governors of Massachusetts and Illinois), the Deep South has always lagged behind in union organizing. The failure of the CIO’s “Operation Dixie” in the late 1940s and concerted campaigns to divide black workers from white workers in law and on the shop floor left southern workers with fewer rights, lower wages, and, without unions to press their case, with less political representation. Yet there have always been exceptions, unions and organizations that have fought against great odds to build power for workers in the South, and with the accession of Trump, they can offer us advice for how to move forward when workers’ rights are under attack and racism being fomented from the highest levels of government. Dissent’s Sarah Jaffe spoke with three labor organizers from the South about their experiences and what can be learned from their successes….

Standing With Immigrants in Nebraska
Julie Greene

…. Many states have been transformed by immigration in recent decades, but some are better prepared than others to cope with the crisis. Take my home state of Nebraska. A solidly red state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in more than half a century, Nebraska has nonetheless seen the flowering of a pro-immigrant political culture. Over the past six years, activists across the state built a coalition that has made it possible to confront the harsh words and actions of the Trump administration head on. Examining what they did and how they did it can offer lessons for activists beyond the Great Plains. ….

Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism
Kate Aronoff

One glaring omission in the postmortem handwringing about the 2016 election is the fact that most poor people in America—of all races and genders—simply didn’t vote. They were prevented from doing so by a number of structural barriers—voting restrictions, second and third jobs, far-flung polling locations—as well as a lack of excitement about two parties they saw as having abandoned them.

Enter: twenty-first-century electric cooperatives, a perhaps unlikely player in the contest for power between progressives and conservatives in the heart of so-called Trump country in rural America.

If there’s one thing poor, rural communities tend to have in common, it’s where they get their power—not political power, but actual electricity. Over 900 rural electric cooperatives (RECs)—owned and operated by their members—stretch through forty-seven states, serving 42 million ratepayers and 11 percent of the country’s demand for electricity. They also serve 93 percent of the country’s “persistent poverty counties,” 85 percent of which lie in non-metropolitan areas. REC service areas encompass everything from isolated farm homes to mountain hollers to small cities, with the highest concentrations in the South, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. And they might just offer an opportunity to curb the right and the climate crisis alike…..

A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in the United States

Source: Elizabeth A. Mack, Sarah Wrase, PLOS, Published: January 11, 2017

While basic access to clean water is critical, another important issue is the affordability of water access for people around the globe. Prior international work has highlighted that a large proportion of consumers could not afford water if priced at full cost recovery levels. Given growing concern about affordability issues due to rising water rates, and a comparative lack of work on affordability in the developed world, as compared to the developing world, more work is needed in developed countries to understand the extent of this issue in terms of the number of households and persons impacted. To address this need, this paper assesses potential affordability issues for households in the United States using the U.S. EPA’s 4.5% affordability criteria for combined water and wastewater services. Analytical results from this paper highlight high-risk and at-risk households for water poverty or unaffordable water services. Many of these households are clustered in pockets of water poverty within counties, which is a concern for individual utility providers servicing a large proportion of customers with a financial inability to pay for water services. Results also highlight that while water rates remain comparatively affordable for many U.S. households, this trend will not continue in the future. If water rates rise at projected amounts over the next five years, conservative projections estimate that the percentage of U.S. households who will find water bills unaffordable could triple from 11.9% to 35.6%. This is a concern due to the cascading economic impacts associated with widespread affordability issues; these issues mean that utility providers could have fewer customers over which to spread the large fixed costs of water service. Unaffordable water bills also impact customers for whom water services are affordable via higher water rates to recover the costs of services that go unpaid by lower income households.

Related:
Press release

The climbing cost of water
Source: LaShell Stratton-Childers, Water Environment & Technology (WE&T) Magazine, Volume 29 Number 5, May 2017
(subscription required)

Michigan State researchers predict that water will no longer be affordable for as many as a third of American households.

75 Years of Too Cheap Water

Source: John H. Murdoch, Jr., Journal – American Water Works Association, Volume 109 Number 5, May 2017

From the abstract:
Murdoch admonished water providers for keeping the price of water artificially low. At one time, this was done to encourage customers to connect to water systems – before they realized the benefits of treated and regulated water systems. But by 1956, the benefits were established, and Murdoch challenged water providers to reflect the value of water in charges that passed the real costs of providing that safe and adequate supply of water to their customers. To some degree, this situation continues to exist today.

Law & Water — A Deep Dive Into Current US Water Utility Rate Case Issues

Source: David T. McGimpsey, Journal – American Water Works Association, Volume 109 Number 4, April 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Welcome to my first Law & Water column for Journal AWWA. This column addresses legal issues affecting water utilities. I live and work in the United States and rely on sources at or in working with regulatory commissions in the United States for their insights on novel issues and emerging trends. For matters outside the United States, I will tap into experts in those countries where pertinent developments are occurring.

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014: Structure and Effects

Source: Sridhar Vedachalam, R. Richard Geddes, Journal – American Water Works Association, Volume 109 Number 4, April 2017

From the abstract:
Many US municipalities confront serious challenges due to aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Many systems require immediate repairs, upgrades, and replacement, but available funding is scarce. Readily available low-interest financing is of great help to such municipalities. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) approved by Congress in 2014 was a step in that direction. WIFIA is a five-year pilot program focused on supporting large-scale projects that may be under-served by existing state revolving funds (SRFs). The authors examine the structure and implementation of WIFIA and its impact on existing financing mechanisms. The cost of debt service in four representative communities in New York was compared under WIFIA, SRFs, and tax-exempt municipal bonds. Although WIFIA financing offered the lowest debt service cost, savings from WIFIA depended on the spread between US Treasury rates and borrowing rates of the SRF-administering agency.

Crisis in Flint Underscores a National Drinking Water Quality Problem

Source: Pam Hunter McFarland and Mike Anderson, Engineering News Record, Vol. 277 no. 11, October 12, 2016

….In many ways, the situation in Flint is unique. A state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 made a unilateral decision to switch the city’s drinking-water supply from Lake Huron, which provides Detroit’s water supply, to the polluted Flint River; then the city failed to ensure that proper corrosion controls were applied to prevent lead from leaching into the water. A few months later, citizens began complaining of vomiting, rashes and hair loss. A U.S. Justice Dept. probe is underway, and criminal charges have been filed against multiple parties, including the city’s former water supervisor.

In other ways, Flint is emblematic of a larger problem: Many cities across the country, particularly Rust Belt cities with older networks of drinking-water pipes and service lines, could be facing similar scenarios with not only lead but also other organic contaminants, such as perchlorate—a component of rocket fuel—and Legionella bacteria…..

Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues

Source: Mary Tiemann, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report, RS22037, November 8, 2016

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the federal authority for regulating contaminants in public water supplies. It includes the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program, established in 1996 to help public water systems finance infrastructure projects needed to comply with federal drinking water regulations and to meet the SDWA’s health objectives. Under this program, states receive annual capitalization grants to provide financial assistance (primarily subsidized loans) to public water systems for drinking water projects and other specified activities. Between FY1997 and FY2015, Congress had appropriated approximately $20 billion, and more than 12,400 projects had received assistance through the program.

The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of capital improvement needs indicates that public water systems need to invest $384.2 billion on infrastructure improvements over 20 years to ensure the provision of safe tap water. EPA reports that, although all of the identified projects promote the public health objectives of the SDWA, just $42.0 billion (10.9%) of reported needs are attributable to SDWA compliance. A study by the American Water Works Association projects that restoring aging infrastructure and expanding water systems to keep up with population growth would require a nationwide investment of at least $1 trillion through 2035……