A bill awaiting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's signature will make privatizing municipal water systems easier and let "corporate profits replace meeting the needs of consumers and the environment," critics charge.
The legislation in question is the "Water Infrastructure Protection Act," which passed the Senate 21-16 on Thursday. The measure is sponsored by Republican Senator Joe Kyrillos and Democratic Senator Paul Sarlo.
The Herald reports that sales of municipal water systems to private entities would be fast-tracked because the bill would eliminate "a mandatory public vote on such deals and reduc[e] oversight of the sale price by the state Board of Public Utilities."
Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, wrote Tuesday that the governor should veto the bill, stating: "The Legislature is selling out our clean water by turning New Jersey’s water supply over to foreign, multinational corporations."
Tittel called the bill "dangerous" and "undemocratic," and added: "Studies have shown that when public services are privatized, corporate profits replace meeting the needs of consumers and the environment."
Also cautioning against the measure is Stefanie Brand, Director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, an independent state agency that she says "gives consumers a voice in setting energy, water and telecommunications policy that will affect the rendering of utility services well into the future."
In remarks delivered this month to the Assembly State and Local Government Committee, she said: "Investor-owned utilities could run wild in an effort to submit the highest bid knowing that they bear no risk and will be subject to no regulatory oversight. Meanwhile, ratepayers will be required to pay for the full purchase price in rates, and will pay for these higher bids."
Kyrillos, in contrast, touts the bill as allowing aging infrastructure to be taken over by people with "know-how."
"The challenges of maintaining and replacing aging water infrastructure can escalate quickly beyond the technical and financial means of government entities and taxpayers. Despite this, current law makes it nearly impossible to let those with sufficient resources and know-how to take over these systems and effectively address emergent conditions," he said in a statement issued last week.