Thanks to the rapid response of people across Massachusetts, we helped defeat dangerous pro-water privatization policies in the state legislature: not once, but twice!
Stuck on as amendments to bills in the House and Senate, these policies could have dramatically changed the management of water in Massachusetts. They would have removed legal barriers to water privatization and allowed water corporations to use public subsidies to increase their profits. The pro-privatization intent behind these amendments was similar to that of a bill in Wisconsin … which we also helped defeat just a few months ago.
Late on a Wednesday night, our senior campaign organizer was tipped off to the next day’s impending passage of three amendments. These amendments would pave the way for water privatization under the guise of “public-private partnerships,” and could have led to municipal officials being bombarded with unsolicited sales pitches.
We knew we needed to act quickly to prevent the ills that often come with privatized water systems — rising rates, labor abuses, and infrastructure neglect.
For stark examples of the failures of private water corporations, we only need look to Veolia, one of the largest water corporations in the world. It is currently being sued by two state attorneys general for its abuses.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is holding Veolia accountable for the mismanagement of the Town of Plymouth’s wastewater system, which led to the release of more than ten million gallons of raw sewage into public areas. And Michigan’s attorney general is suing the corporation for fraud over its role in the Flint water crisis.
All hands on deck
Where did these amendments come from? Well, in 2015, a handful of senators introduced SB 1722, legislation that would allow private water corporations to prey on cash-strapped municipalities to take over our water systems.
Because the bill was moving so slowly through the legislative process, we determined it was unlikely to pass.
But then, practically overnight, almost the exact same language of that Senate bill was pasted in as three amendments to House Bill 4461.
That’s when we mobilized. In less than 15 hours, our members and allies flooded the House of Representatives with calls to oppose these amendments. We showed up at the State House and spoke with representatives from around the state.
We created enough pressure that the sponsoring representatives quietly withdrew all of the amendments.
We were victorious! … For the moment.
Just as we were celebrating our win, we learned the same language we had just defeated had been tacked onto a bill moving through the Senate (Senate Bill 2410).
Our coalition of members and allies ramped up again, making phone calls and visiting senators at the State House.
In the end, we ensured the amendment was defeated on the floor during a late-night Senate session.
Phew! Can we rest yet?
This is neither the first nor the last time that we’ll see backers of private water trying to pass harmful policies.
Private water corporations need to continue to expand their market to rake in enormous profit. And they are seeking to create national, state, and local policies that pave the way for them to take over our public water systems.
But what the victories in Massachusetts and Wisconsin show are that people are not willing to put their water at risk — and are eager to take action to counteract this industry trend.
We’re building momentum toward protecting public water, and our voice is growing stronger by the day. And as we all stand together, spread the message that public water works, and take action, we are stopping — and preventing — the corporate abuse of our most essential resource.