MILWAUKEE – Yesterday, Senator Chris Larson, Tom Stolp, from Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, and Jayme Montgomery Baker, from Sierra Club made statements regarding AB 554 in a press conference organized by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Midwest Environmental Advocates. The press conference was attended by more than 20 concerned community members including those from area groups such as the Overpass Light Brigade, who held a demonstration opposing AB 554 at Bradford Beach on Tuesday night, and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA).
AB 554 is a bill that threatens drinking water for millions of Wisconsinites and opens the door to corporate control of Wisconsin’s water utilities. A five-member Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Public Works, and Military Affair passed AB 554 in an executive session this morning and the bill will be voted on by the full Senate in the next ten days.
Cheryl Nenn, from Milwaukee Riverkeeper explains, “Currently, we have a safeguard in our State law that requires a public referendum before any utility can be sold or leased to a private entity. As part of this, our Public Service Commission also does an analysis before that referendum looking at the value of the utility to ensure that if a sale goes through that the taxpayers are getting a good “price” so to speak. This bill would remove these protections and make it easier for private water companies to sway local municipalities or utilities to privatize.”
This legislation benefits the private water industry while removing the transparency and accountability that allows citizens and local elected officials to ensure safe drinking water. New Jersey passed a similar type of legislation in February; as a result, people throughout the state have fewer public processes to ensure public control of their water utilities.
During a press conference held outside the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium on Wednesday, Tom Stolp from Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters stated, “There are some things that are so critical and fundamental, like safe drinking water and management of sewage, that they require the transparency and accountability that comes with local elected control. Government has a level of accountability to citizens that private companies do not.”
Jayme Montgomery Baker from Sierra Club pointed to recent events in Flint, Michigan as an example of why having public participation and oversight of public water supplies so important to the health of our communities. “Because the city manager, empowered by the Governor Synder, was trying to save money, they compromised the water quality, health and security of the people. This bill will put the state of Wisconsin on the same path as Flint. By allowing control of the water supply to be put in the hands of corporations, priority is given to profits with no accountability to the people.”
Milwaukee Riverkeeper is providing an easy way for all Wisconsin citizens to voice their concerns to their State Senators here:
Midwest Environmental Advocates has provided a brief analysis of AB554 here:
Photos from the event can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/milwaukeeriverkeeper/sets/72157664065304125
Senator Larson’s remarks can be found here: