Obama’s New Infrastructure Plan Would Worsen Our Water System Woes

Link to original article.

January 16, 2015

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. — “Today the Obama administration announced a slew of proposals that will endanger our water systems by promoting and facilitating the management of critical drinking water resources by companies that often have a poor track record. Through the creation of a new Water Finance Center at the EPA to foster water privatization deals, and through new tax breaks on bonds for privatized projects, the Obama administration seeks to pave the way for big Wall Street firms and foreign water corporations to take control of our essential water resources. These misguided proposals will not benefit the average American, or our public water utilities, but will merely pad the pockets of those who seek to profit off the provision of water and sewer services.

“Public-private partnerships are not a practical or effective way to meet our water infrastructure crisis. The American people cannot afford the price tag or environmental threats that are well documented after private companies make decisions based on their bottom lines.

“Public water is the American way. More than 80 percent of the U.S. population receives water and sewer service from a publicly owned and operated utility. The public sector is responsible for more than 90 percent of drinking water and wastewater investments, mostly through tax-exempt municipal bonds. Instead of undermining our municipal utilities, the federal government should increase its support for public water and sewer systems.

“The federal government must step up and renew its commitment to our public water and sewer systems. The Obama administration and Congress can more effectively bolster our local government and rural water utilities by fully funding the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, preserving tax-exempt status on general obligation and revenue bonds and authorizing Building America’s Future bonds.

“Responsible public provision is the most effective way to ensure that every person has access to safe and affordable water service.”

Contact: Katherine Cirullo, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4914, kcirullo@fwwatch.org

Conflict over water rights in Ecuador

Indigenous people protest over water rights, as Ecuador’s government continues to ignore their demands.

Link to Original Article

by Manuela Picq | July 16, 2014

Ecuador’s indigenous movement organised a 12-day march for water rights [Getty Images]

If you are going to pass unpopular legislation, you may as well do it while everyone is watching the World Cup. When Ecuadorians were focused on soccer, the government fast-tracked a new water law, endorsing the privatisation of water and permitting extractive activities in sources of freshwater. The controversial law was approved without a fuss in four days by a governing party that controls about two-thirds of legislative seats.

Social sectors reacted with a cross-country walk of protest. Strong resistance came from the indigenous movement, which has demanded equal access to water for nearly two decades. Many other sectors joined in disapproval of a government increasingly perceived as anti-democratic. About 20 organisations allied in a Front of Resistance and set off to walk from the Amazon to Quito. It was the second large mobilisation to defend water rights against extractive industries. This time, however, it was a broader coalition calling for civil disobedience against a state that regularly ignores constitutional rights.

Walking for water

The Walk for Water, Life and People’s Freedom started on June 21 in the Amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe, where Ecuador’s first mega-mining project is planned to open in the hills of Condor Mirador. About 100 participants walked, and at times, drove some 960km in a 12-day journey to the capital in the highlands. They were teenagers and elderly women, lawyers and peasants, over a third of them Amazonian. Many more people joined irregularly for shorter distances. The walk counted over 1,000 people when it reached Cuenca’s cathedral, where the bishop held a mass for water. In the rural province of Canar, thousands of indigenous people took to the roads to support demands for water rights.

Activists carried a 25-metre long blue flag with the words “we are water”. They chanted that water should be defended, not sold out to corporations, with slogans such as “go away Chinese mining” and “down with the socialism of the 21st century”. The political protest counted with the tunes of singer Rosa Lanchimba, who revamped traditional songs into water demands, and the Amazon rap composer Jota Al Cuadrado, who used his mic to reveal an artificial socialism that encourages extractivism.

The last-minute mobilisation was a collective effort that thrived on solidarity. Bystanders offered food supplies such as potatoes, oranges, and even a live cock, which became a mascot. Villagers welcomed participants with pampamesas, the Andean form of sharing food on a long stretch of fabric in open fields, opened their communal houses and provided shelter. Twice, pastoral organisations hosted the march. Zamora Council members secured a portable kitchen, men rolled up their sleeves to cook with women, and learned to peel potatoes and sang love songs at the same time.
Ecuadorean villagers fight against rainforest pollution

The most difficult part of the journey was not the lack of running water or the cold nights on concrete floors. It was the constant police surveillance.

Police harassment set the tone from the start. Since the start, police blockades tried to stop or slow down the walk. Police forces permanently followed and photographed participants as means of intimidation.

Traffic officers demanded special authorisation or commercial permits from participants. Tensions rose and ebbed. Special police forces threatened to disperse the crowd with tear gas one day, then squeezed in with protesters in a small store to watch their soccer team play its last World Cup game the following day. At times, cordial police officers blocked intersections to facilitate the passing of the caravan, making it feel like a presidential escort. Other times, police officers who had previously arrested water activists would stop the caravan for an hour without justification.

Demands raised

The mobilisation was not overwhelming in numbers, but the breadth of its coalition merits political attention. It included powerful indigenous organisations such as the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI), the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and their political branch Pachakutik. Salvador Quishpe, Zamora’s governor, was one of the walk’s most illustrious participants.

The protest demanded not only water rights but pushed further. Communal organisations asked for the payment of the agrarian debt, peasant welfare and the re-establishment of bilingual education. The National Federation of Secondary Students denounced entry requirements that impeded hundreds of thousands of students from attending university.

There were labour unions and teachers’ organisations concerned with laws forbidding workers to unionise – one of the five criteria for decent work according to the International Labour Organization. Medical doctors demanded the decriminalisation of malpractice; the families of political prisoners like Clever Jimenez called for the respect of decisions issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

All sections denounced the criminalisation of social protests. All unanimously rejected the proposed law on “indefinite re-election” that would keep the president in office for a long, indefinite period.

Water inequalities

Today’s water law is an offspring of the 2008 constitution. It has been heavily contested by indigenous sectors seeking to protect traditional systems of water management against further privatisation for the agribusiness and mining industries. Part of the problem is the large inequality in access to water. Indigenous leader Perez Guartambel has claimed that Ecuador’s wealthiest one percent controls 64 percent of freshwater.
Inside Story Americas – Holding Chevron accountable

Indigenous mobilisation hoped to influence the law in two ways. First, water defenders wanted to ban extractive activities like mega mining at water sources. Second, they wanted a Plurinational Council on Water to secure indigenous participation in decision-making processes.

Both demands fell upon deaf ears. The law permits mining in freshwater sources and the Plurinational Council is rather decorative, having a voice but no vote. The beautiful Article 6 forbids all forms of privatisation. Yet Article 7 “exceptionally” authorises private initiatives in the cases of a) state of exception, b) state of emergency, and c) when local authorities have insufficient technical or financial means. The state has full control over the privatisation of water resources. Indigenous and peasant communities, in turn, will easily be labelled as technically or financial inept to control their water systems.

Resource conflicts are spreading. In 2000, Bolivia went into a water war. Today, Mexican residents clash with the police to defend their access to fresh water.

The irony in the Ecuadorian case is that its 2008 constitution was internationally acclaimed for declaring water as a human right and establishing the rights of nature. Such laws are losing their meaning as the government grants deals to Chinese extraction industries in important ecosystems. Now, the state is considered the exclusive competent authority to control hydric resources (Article 1 of the law) and guarantees the rights of nature (Article 3).

Yet civil society seems to disagree that the state is nature’s best care-taker. Upon arriving in Quito, the walk created a Peoples’ Parliament to defend constitutional rights against a congress increasingly willing to bypass them. Theirs was a call to civil disobedience.

As the elderly indigenous leader Nina Pacari read parliament’s declaration, she reminded us that this march would not end there. Around the world, the struggle for water is an affirmation of individual and collective rights in the face of abusive states.

Manuela Picq is a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton) and Professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador).

NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us

Tom McKay  March 18, 2014 , PolicyMic  

Civilization was pretty great while it lasted, wasn’t it? Too bad it’s not going to for much longer. According to a new study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, we only have a few decades left before everything we know and hold dear collapses.

The report, written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists, explains that modern civilization is doomed. And there’s not just one particular group to blame, but the entire fundamental structure and nature of our society.  Read more:


Cambridge voters reject ordinance that would have blocked east-west corridor development

By Grace Lommel, Special to the BDN,  Posted March 06, 2014, at 12:32 p.m.

CAMBRIDGE, Maine — Voters rejected a proposed ordinance prohibiting land acquisition for transportation and distribution corridors within town boundaries by a vote of 63-29 at the annual town meeting on March 1. The ordinance would have blocked development of a proposed statewide east-west corridor through the Somerset County town.  Read more:


Charleston residents ‘pass over’ ordinance to block east-west highway

Bangor Daily News , Dec. 14, 2013

CHARLESTON, Maine — Even with extra chairs brought in, it was still standing room only at Saturday’s special town meeting, where residents voted to pass on considering a rights-based ordinance designed to stop the proposed east-west corridor.

The decision to pass over the proposed ordinance nullified it, town officials said.

“There is a flaw in the definition section,” Bob Lodato, one of the backers of the rights-based ordinance, informed those gathered at the Charleston Community Center. “We plan to continue working in order to develop another option to stop the east-west highway.”

Read More: http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/14/news/penobscot/charleston-residents-pass-over-ordinance-to-block-east-west-highway/?ref=latest

NEW MEXICO: County defends its fracking ban as it declares corporations aren’t people

Monday, November 18, 2013 | Energy Wire, an E&E Publishing Service | Mike Lee, E&E reporter

A fracking ban in a swath of rural New Mexico has led to a federal lawsuit involving the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, indigenous water rights, the treaty that ended the Mexican War of 1848 and one of the best-known oil-drilling families in the state.

It could be a precursor to disputes around the country as local governments attempt to ban drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The oil industry is concerned about environmental groups’ ability to sway small-town voters. Four local bans won at the polls in Colorado earlier this month.

Mora County’s drilling ban was written with help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, or CELDF, which helped write a drilling ban in Dryden, N.Y.

The group is “going around the country and trying to get this adopted,” said Karin Foster, a spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico. “We felt the time was now to actually fight it.”

Mora County, just northeast of Santa Fe, has a population of about 5,000 and no oil or gas drilling. The three-member county commission passed an ordinance in April that bans not only drilling, but also the use of water for hydraulic fracturing — the water-intensive method used to access shale formations. It goes on to say that corporations violating the local law won’t have the rights of “persons” under the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions and cites local residents’ water rights under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848 and made New Mexico a U.S. territory.

“Natural communities and ecosystems including, but not limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers and other water systems, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within Mora County against oil and gas extraction,” the ordinance says. “Residents of the county, along with the Mora County Commission, shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights.”

Kathleen Dudley, an organizer with CELDF, said the ordinance was intended to make a point about the power of corporations and the need to shift the balance of political strength back to ordinary voters.

“We don’t have a fracking problem, we have a democracy problem,” Dudley said.

The New Mexico Independent Petroleum Association and two landowners have sued in federal district court, asking a judge to rule that the county ordinance contradicts state and federal law. The ban on drilling violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and the Constitution’s prohibition against governments taking private property without compensation, the suit says.

As for whether corporations have the same rights as people, the suit cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. The decision overturned a federal ban on the use of corporate money for independent political ads, saying the restrictions were a violation of the Constitution’s free-speech guarantees.

Among those suing Mora County are Yates Ranch Property LLP and JAY Land Ltd., which own the 125,000-acre Ojo Feliz Ranch in Mora County.

The Yates family is descended from Martin Yates, who drilled the first commercial well in southeastern New Mexico, Foster said. The family-owned Yates Petroleum Corp. is among the biggest privately owned oil producers in the country, according to published reports, and it owns oil and gas leases in Mora County.

A company spokesman declined to comment, but Yates Petroleum makes its views on government plain in the company history on its website: “From surviving a tornado to hanging on against the fierce winds of regulatory adversity, the Yates have stood together.”

Foster, with the petroleum association, said other New Mexico counties have passed ordinances that protect water without outright bans on drilling. Santa Fe County, for instance, required companies to build all the necessary roads and infrastructure for an oil or gas field before receiving a permit to drill.

If Mora County were truly concerned about water quality, it would have restricted other industries, such as agriculture, the suit says.

John Olivas, a fifth-generation New Mexican who is chairman of the county commission, said the county has been discussing the need to protect its water since about 2006, when companies first began leasing drilling rights. The commissioners were also concerned about the low prices that oil companies offered to Mora County residents for leasing their drilling rights, he said in an interview.

Olivas works as a hunting guide and also does consulting work for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups. He said the county wasn’t looking for a legal fight, but understood that the ordinance would create controversy.

“That was a stance that we took — a little, small community in northern New Mexico standing up to a giant corporation,” he said.

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Charleston to Weigh Ordinance Blocking East West Corridor

Bangor Daily News, Nov. 12, 2013

Charleston residents overwhelmingly voted to renew a moratorium on development of a corridor for a proposed east-west highway last week, and soon the town will have the opportunity to vote on an ordinance to prohibit the corridor.


Read More : http://bangordailynews.com/2013/11/12/news/piscataquis/charleston-to-weigh-ordinance-blocking-east-west-corridor/?ref=regionstate

A Struggle to Share the Truth about Rights Based Ordinances

Last week on November 2, Doug Thomas, the Republican Senator from Ripley, Maine, published a misleading and false Letter to the Editor in the Bangor Daily News that was warning local people from voting for these ordinances for reasons that are simply untrue.  In response, many people who are very familiar with the Rights Based Ordinance and are trying to use them to elevate their rights above those of corporations and government to protect themselves from the East West Corridor are responding.  Here is one LTE that sheds truth about the Rights Based Ordinances.  Link to original article.

Nov. 07, 2013

Doubting Thomas

Sen. Doug Thomas’s letter about rights-based ordinances shows he has very little understanding of them. He claims they take property rights away from landowners, when they actually declare a list of rights claimed on behalf of town residents, and nowhere do they take away any town resident’s rights. He scaremongers about a resident having “to fight a wealthy environmental group in court if they want to stop us from building or using our own land.” The only thing Sangerville’s ordinance prohibits is a transportation and distribution corridor. It prohibits nothing else. Thomas has flipped the logic on its head to suit his purposes.

Rights-based ordinances actually protect residents from having to fight wealthy corporations, or the state, when they want to build a transportation and distribution corridor through our towns without our consent. We who are seeking to have these ordinances passed in our towns want our neighbors to read the ordinance. We know that when they do; they will see that it does the opposite of what Thomas claims.

It gives back to municipalities control over what giant corporations or the state can do to them without their consent — control that has been lost, gradually, over the past 200 years. Contact Sangerville at 876-2814 if you would like to get a copy of its rights-based ordinance.

Bob Lodato