Monday, December 19, 2016

St. Joseph

The water supply in St. Joseph, Louisiana has (finally) been declared unsafe by Governor Edwards.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a public health emergency for the town of St. Joseph after officials discovered elevated levels of lead and copper in several water samples. 

"Out of an abundance of caution," the Louisiana Department of Health recommends that residents do not use the town's tap water for drinking or "personal consumption, including making ice, brushing teeth or using it for food preparation and rinsing of foods," the governor's office said in a news release today. (Friday, Dec 16)
This is slightly different from the public advisory issued back in February which told everyone the brown water was safe to drink. Better late than never, I guess. 
The state Department of Health and Hospitals noted in a report Tuesday that several maintenance deficiencies were found during its December inspection, including a deficient filtration system and rusty tanks.

The water then flows through the aging system to homes and businesses. Between May 2012 and January 2016, St. Joseph issued 20 notices advising customers to boil their water before use as a precaution.

Repairing the system would cost about $8 million.

“This is a problem that is common to a lot of small communities around Louisiana. They’re not able to raise the funds to maintain the system and meet higher standards,” Guidry said.

The national media has taken notice of the problems in St. Joseph, which state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, attributes to the situation in Flint. He welcomes the publicity, saying it is helping his efforts to secure the funding necessary for upgrading the water system in a town — like many in northeast Louisiana — that simply can’t afford the repairs.

“In these very poor and rural areas, it’s hard to keep the streets up, keep up the water systems and sewers because they don’t have a lot of tax base,” Thompson said. Forty percent of St. Joseph’s population lives below the poverty line.
Having seen this story and, of course, the saga of the tainted water supply in Flint, Michigan this year, one wonders how many more places are facing a similar predicament.  The answer is a lot.  In fact, a recent Reuters investigation found almost 3,000 areas with higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint. Their story starts in a place called St. Joseph.
ST. JOSEPH, Missouri – On a sunny November afternoon in this historic city, birthplace of the Pony Express and death spot of Jesse James, Lauranda Mignery watched her son Kadin, 2, dig in their front yard. As he played, she scolded him for putting his fingers in his mouth.

In explanation, she pointed to the peeling paint on her old house. Kadin, she said, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning.

He has lots of company: Within 15 blocks of his house, at least 120 small children have been poisoned since 2010, making the neighborhood among the most toxic in Missouri, Reuters found as part of an analysis of childhood lead testing results across the country. In St. Joseph, even a local pediatrician’s children were poisoned.
St. Joseph, by the way, is patron saint to "craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general." These are precisely the sort of people who could be put to work fixing the environmental and infrastructure problems in towns like St. Joseph, MO and LA if only the money and political will could be found to begin those projects.

Donald Trump has made some noise both during the campaign and transition period about a new and aggressive infrastructure program.  That sounds positive at first. But will what Trump actually has in mind end up benefiting places like St. Joseph?  Probably not.
Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter” (get to know this document) stresses that his American Energy and Infrastructure Act “leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over ten years. It is revenue neutral.”

What do “public-private partnerships” and “tax incentives” mean here? This report from Peter Navarro, set to be one of Trump’s leading economists, lays out the blueprint. The government would sell $1 trillion in revenue-producing bonds, needing only to supply an equity cushion to ensure everyone gets paid. Navarro estimates around $140 billion in government funding when all is said and done, which you could easily get through repatriation.

Investors would get a tax credit to entice them to buy bonds, and Navarro claims that the tax revenue from new jobs created by the projects makes up for that cost. He also wants to contract out these projects, building in a 10 percent profit margin for the private contractor. Navarro claims that construction costs are higher when built by the government, and the private sector is more efficient.

Does this sound familiar? It’s the common justification for privatization, and it’s been a disaster virtually everywhere it’s been tried. First of all, this specifically ties infrastructure—designed for the common good—to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees.

So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.

You also end up with contractors skimping on costs to maximize profits. A shiny new toll road between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, done through a public-private partnership is falling apart after only a couple years, and improper drainage is leading residents of Lockhart, a city along the route, to complain of flooding. The contractor refuses to make the fixes; instead the company is walking away with outsized profits.

Under this scheme, private investors and contractors hold power over project selection. Trump—a.k.a. the government—would just be the name on a privately owned bridge or seaport or electrical grid. The notion of an inherent public benefit to infrastructure improvements, the entire point of the enterprise, is totally eliminated.
Sorry about the long quote there. But it's necessary to get the sense of what's about to happen. American voters in poor and rural areas of the South and Midwest just installed Donald Trump as President precisely because they've already suffered too long the consequences of this neoliberal shell game. And now they are about to get hit with it again in spades.

It's also worth noting that Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency is best known for suing that agency to prevent enforcement of laws meant to rein in polluters.

 So it's worth remembering as well that St. Joseph is also the patron saint of the dying if you're looking for someone to pray to.


No comments: