Aug. 22, 2002

Protesters: Bush Support for Water Privatization Is Pro-Corporation, Anti-People

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Among the protesters who will be outside President Bush’s fundraiser on Friday in Stockton, Calif., will be citizens fighting to protect public drinking water from corporate privatization schemes.

The protesters’ presence underscores the Bush administration’s preference for corporate profits over strong citizen safeguards. Still reeling from energy market manipulations, Californians are all too familiar with how corporations will prey on consumers when granted too much control of basic services. Now Stockton has become a battleground in the fight over water privatization and is one of several communities nationwide where Public Citizen has joined with citizens and environmental, labor and public interest groups to stave off a corporate push to control and profit from public water systems. Bush will be in Stockton to raise money for the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate.

The Bush administration supports privatization of the nation’s — and the world’s — water. Domestically, the White House is backing legislation that would force cities and towns to consider privatization before they could receive federal money to help keep drinking water safe. Internationally, the Bush administration backs conditions mandating that poor countries hand water systems over to corporations before receiving loans and other financial aid.

"Bush is fond of saying ‘you’re either with us or against us,’" said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "When it comes to protecting the public from greedy corporate schemes to control the world’s water supply, Bush is with corporations — and against the public."

In cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans, corporate water providers and system operators have charged higher rates, allowed water quality to deteriorate, failed to make promised investments and seized control of one of the citizenry’s most precious necessities while sidestepping accountability.

But other cities, including Jacksonville, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; and Peoria, Ill., have either shed corporate control of water systems or are trying to do so. Meanwhile, citizens in Stockton, Laredo, Texas and other communities are trying to beat back corporate advances on their water systems and expose the empty promises routinely offered up by the American subsidiaries of international conglomerates such as Suez, RWE and the financially embattled Vivendi.

In Stockton, for instance, community groups recently gathered 18,000 signatures from registered voters — enough to place on the ballot an initiative that would prohibit the city from entering into a contract with a private water company unless the voters approve.

"Water is a common resource and a public trust," Hauter said. "Corporations wrongly view water as a growth industry, and they want to turn the public’s water into a commodity to be traded by Enron-style speculators. People should be aware that although the Bush administration repeatedly espouses free markets, 85 percent of the population gets water from a publicly owned system."

Providing clean and affordable water to all is a top priority at next week’s United Nations-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Hauter added.

"Instead of traveling to California to raise money for a gubernatorial candidate whose company was found guilty of fraud, Bush should be preparing to go to Johannesburg to demand that the summit address the water crisis that seriously affects half the global population and results in the death of 40,000 children every day. Bush should cast off the shackles of his pro-corporate world view and use his office to try to make the world a better place."