Tag Archives: corporate

Explosion in Alabama shuts down gas pipeline, kills worker

Colonial Pipeline Co’s main gasoline line, a crucial supply source to the East Coast, is shut down for at least several days, after an explosion and fire in Alabama killed one worker and injured five others.

Crews have isolated the fire, which came weeks after its biggest gasoline spill in nearly two decades shut the same line for 12 days.

The latest incident also temporarily shut down the distillates line, which transports diesel and jet fuels to the Northeast. It reopened early Tuesday, Colonial said.

The explosion occurred several miles from the September leak. A nine-man crew working on the line in Shelby County hit Line 1, the main gasoline pipeline, with a large excavator known as a track hoe, Colonial said late Monday. About 1.3 million barrels of gasoline flows daily on the line.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said investigators were on the scene. They noted that contractors were “reportedly” working on repairs on Line 1 related to the Sept. 9 spill.

One person was killed and five others hospitalized in the latest incident, Colonial said.

The explosion took place in an unincorporated wildlife area outside Helena, Alabama. Colonial and the state’s forestry commission were leading the response.

The 5,500-mile pipeline is the largest U.S. refined products pipeline system and can carry more than 3 million barrels of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel between the Gulf Coast to the New York Harbor area.

Shippers using the East Coast supply artery were bracing for a longer shutdown as Colonial said it was hard to predict a repair schedule.

The shutdown will restrict gasoline supplies to millions of Americans in the U.S. Southeast and possibly the Northeast. The Northeast could be less affected since it can get supplies via waterborne shippers. Colonial said its main gasoline line could be open as early as Saturday.


Gasoline prices rose as much as 13 percent on Tuesday.

The shutdown already has shippers and fuel companies scrambling to secure supplies via sea or other alternatives to get fuel to the East Coast. Fuel retailers and consumers are likely to be most affected, though prices at the pump have not risen yet, even as gasoline futures have spiked.


Barclays analyst Warren Russell said on Tuesday prior to Colonial’s statement that a restart could take longer due to concerns by regulators, given the proximity to the September leak, and as repair and safety inspections take place.

“The facts on the ground are not 100 percent clear,” said Russell. “This is the second accident in two months, so the stakes are much higher this time around.”



Gasoline futures rose as much as 13 percent early in the session to $1.6351, the highest since early June. At midday, it rose 4.1 percent to $1.48 per gallon. U.S. gasoline margins hit their highest since early May.

Ryan Chandler, vice president at Colonial Group Inc, which is not connected to Colonial Pipeline, said he has been fielding calls from the pipeline’s customers seeking access to its Charleston and Savannah marine terminals.

Chandler’s company manages three marine terminals in the Southeast and ships on the Colonial pipeline. He said during the September outage, business at the Savannah terminal jumped sevenfold, while Charleston jumped fivefold.

For inland markets in the U.S. Southeast, which do not have access to ports, alternative supplies can be harder to get.

The September spill led to long lines at the pump and a shortage of fuel in states like Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.


Farmers, consumers want new management of organic program

Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute delivered to the USDA more than 5,000 letters from farmers and consumers calling for new management of the National Organic Program.

The food and farm policy research group collected the letters from concerned organic advocates across the country.

“This is one more indication of the growing dissatisfaction with deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy’s direction and oversight of the rapidly growing organic industry,” said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia’s senior farm policy analyst.

The Cornucopia Institute, along with many other public interest groups, has been critical of what they describe as a “corporate takeover” of the regulatory process that Congress designed specifically to protect organic rulemaking from the influence of agribusiness lobbyists.

“Under the direction of deputy Administrator McEvoy, the independence of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert policy panel convened by Congress to act as a buffer between lobbyists, like the powerful Organic Trade Association, and USDA policymakers has been seriously undermined,” said Dr. Barry Flamm, a Montana farmer, scientist and past chairperson of the NOSB.

In the cover letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the organization cited several areas where it says the USDA management is failing. These include:

A lack of enforcement activities on major fraud and alleged violations of organic regulations occurring with “factory farm” livestock activities — all cloaked in secrecy.

Ignoring the questionable authenticity of the flood of organic imports coming into this country from China, India, a number of former Soviet Bloc states and Central America that have effectively shut American organic grain farmers out of the U.S. market.

Allowing, in violation of the law, giant industrial-scale soilless production of organic produce (hydroponic and other management systems), along with ignoring NOSB prohibitions on nanotechnology, using conventional livestock on organic dairies, and other issues.

Usurpation of NOSB governance and authority by USDA/NOP staff and other violations of the Organic Foods Production Act (Cornucopia has a federal lawsuit being adjudicated that charges the USDA with appointing agribusiness executives to the NOSB in seats Congress had specifically earmarked for stakeholders who “own or operate an organic farm”).

Unilateral changes to the Sunset review process for synthetic and non-organic materials, making it difficult for unnecessary or harmful substances to be removed from organics when agribusinesses lobby for them (the USDA is currently involved in litigation with Cornucopia and other stakeholders on this Sunset issue).

“We want organics to live up to the true meaning envisioned by the founders of this movement,” Kastel said. “For both organic farmers and organic consumers, that means sound environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, wholesome and nutritious food derived from excellent soil fertility, and economic justice for those who produce our food. The USDA needs to act to preserve consumer trust in the organic label.”

Due in part to the issues that Cornucopia is spotlighting, Consumer Reports has downgraded the credibility of the USDA organic label from its previous top-tier ranking.


Tesla, SolarCity deal could drive sustainable energy

Tesla wants to put its car and energy storage businesses under one solar-powered roof. Tesla said this week it will buy solar panel maker SolarCity Corp. in an all-stock deal worth $2.6 billion.

The deal must still be approved by the government and shareholders at both companies.

It’s expected to close in the fourth quarter if it goes through.

Thirteen-year-old Tesla currently makes two luxury vehicles — the Model S sedan and Model X SUV— as well as Powerwall and Powerpack energy storage units for homes and businesses.

The company said a tie-up with SolarCity would create a one-stop shop for cleaner energy.

With one service call, customers could get their solar panels installed and connected to a Powerwall, which preserves energy for later use. Users could also get the system hooked up to chargers for one of Tesla’s vehicles.

“This is really all part of solving the sustainable energy problem,” said Elon Musk, the chairman and biggest shareholder of both companies, during a conference call.

But some have questioned the wisdom of the deal, which combines two money-losing companies that already have a lot on their plates.

Tesla is working feverishly on its new, lower-cost Model 3 sedan, which is due out by the end of next year, as well as pickups, electric buses and semi-trucks. It’s in the midst of building one of the world’s largest factories in Nevada to make batteries. And it’s under investigation by the government after the semi-autonomous Autopilot system in its Model S failed to prevent a fatal crash in Florida.

Ten-year-old SolarCity is the top provider of residential solar panels in the U.S., and installs about one-fifth of all commercial solar panels. But the company said Monday that it experienced lower-than-expected residential bookings in the first half of the year, so it’s reducing its full-year guidance for megawatts installed.

Others have questioned the conflicts of interest in the deal. Musk owns a 26 percent stake in Tesla Motors Inc., based in Palo Alto, California, and a 22.5 percent stake in SolarCity Corp., which is based in nearby San Mateo, California. Musk’s cousins, Lyndon Rive and Peter Rive, run SolarCity.

But Musk said the companies have synergies they can’t take advantage of unless they’re combined.

“The point of the merger is to get rid of the conflicts,” he said. “Until then it’s very limited what we can do unless we are one company.”

Musk said he believes the companies could save $150 million to $200 million in the first year alone by streamlining manufacturing, sales and service. Customers could learn about SolarCity products at Tesla’s 190 stores, for example, and save on installation costs because they’d be done more efficiently. Tesla also would give SolarCity access to international customers.

SolarCity’s stock slid more than 8 percent to $24.56 in afternoon trading Monday. Tesla’s shares fell 1.3 percent to $231.71.

Tesla’s current offer values SolarCity’s shares at $25.37. That’s less than the $26.50 to $28.50 value it placed on them in June, when it made its initial overture to SolarCity. Musk said he had no role in establishing the value of the deal.

“I know about as much as you do about how this price was obtained,” he said.

S&P Global raised its target price for SolarCity shares to $26 but reiterated its “sell” opinion on Tesla shares Monday, saying the deal benefits SolarCity more than Tesla.

“We see benefits from a combined solar/storage offering and manufacturing efficiencies, but remain concerned about cash flow and capital needs,” S&P analyst Efraim Levy said in a research note to investors.

The deal may draw more attention to the financial position of both companies. Tesla has lost $1.2 billion in the past two years alone while SolarCity has suffered losses exceeding $1.1 billion during the same span. Analysts surveyed by FactSet are predicting a $416 million loss from Tesla this year while they believe SolarCity will lose $851 million.

Rebecca Lindland, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said the deal addresses a tiny market for now. About 1 percent of the 17 million cars sold in the U.S. are electric and only 1.4 percent of single family homes have solar power.

Those markets are expected to grow over time, she said, but in the meantime, both businesses are capital intensive and propped up by government incentives. Electric car buyers can currently get a $7,500 federal tax credit, for example, while solar panel buyers can deduct 30 percent of the cost of their installation from their federal taxes.

“If anything happens with incentives or the economy in general, this could come crashing down even faster than others are projecting,” Lindland said.

SolarCity has a 45-day “go-shop” period in which it can solicit alternative acquisition proposals. It will have to pay Tesla a $78.2 million termination fee unless it ends the deal with Tesla in order to enter an agreement with a third party that initially made an alternative offer before the “go-shop” period ended. If that happens, SolarCity would pay a $26.1 million termination fee, according to a regulatory filing.

Musk said if someone makes a better offer for SolarCity, he has committed to vote his shares with that offer.

The rainbow business, proud investments

It was the summer of 1975 when Milwaukee resident Paul Toonen attended his first gay Pride parade, a loosely organized protest meant to mimic similar happenings on the West Coast. About 20 to 30 people showed up in front of the courthouse, he recalls. So did the evening news cameras.

“As soon as their lights went on, everyone ran,” he says. “People were afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of being evicted.”

Today, that fear of losing a job has subsided a bit as corporate America embraces Pride.

Just look for the rainbow flag alongside such logos as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Company, United Airlines and Smirnoff. Case in point: It is entirely possible to attend PrideFest this year wearing an NFL Player’s Union gay Pride T-shirt, a Hillary Clinton gay Pride baseball cap, Converse rainbow sneakers and Burt’s Bees Rainbow Lip Balm from Target, while carrying an Apple iPhone 6 inside a gay PFLAG case. A gay Pride T-shirt also is available from Apple.

For provisions, there’s Burger King’s Gay Pride Whopper, launched in 2014, and Absolut’s rainbow vodka.

Corporate America, LGBT America

Corporate evolution on LGBT issues is on full display at Pride celebrations, says Wes Shaver, who’s served on the board of directors for Milwaukee Pride for the past three years and is currently its president-elect. “Gay Pride festivals and celebrations have become more and more attractive to national and larger organizations,” Shaver says, noting this year’s sponsors for Milwaukee PrideFest include Miller Brewing, Sky Vodka, Erie Insurance, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, BMO Harris Bank, Walgreens, US Cellular, and Doubletree Hotels. Over the past several years, the money from such sponsorships has dramatically changed the shape of PrideFest.

“Besides the fact that the presence of these sponsors drives more attention to the festival, the money itself has meant we’ve been able to grow the festival and offer more programming,” Shaver says. “What Walgreens alone has contributed as a sponsor this year has allowed us to build and grow our Health and Wellness area, where people can learn about everything from STD testing to healthy living.”

Corporate America was very different when Noonen was diagnosed with AIDS in 1995 and given five years to live. At the time, Noonen was delivering beer for Miller Brewing Co. He was lucky. Miller was a supporter of the war on AIDS and the LGBT community. According to Toonen, this was partly because Miller’s lead chemist was one of the first people to die of AIDS in Milwaukee, and his contribution to the company was remembered fondly.

Miller was at the vanguard. As recently as 2002, a mere 13 companies received a top score of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates American businesses on their treatment of LGBT employees, consumers and investors. This year, more than 400 major businesses met the criteria to score 100, along with the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

These included Milwaukee companies Northwestern Mutual, Manpower Group, Foley & Lardner, Quarles & Brady, and Rockwell Automation. Other major businesses recognized as “Best Places” included General Electric, General Motors, AT&T, CVS, Fannie Mae, Ford Motor Company, Chevron, Apple, JP Morgan and Hewlett-Packard.

While there’s no doubt big business has changed and advanced the movement, in many significant ways, the movement has changed big business. In 2004, virtually no U.S. companies offered transgender-inclusive health care coverage. Today, two-fifths of the Fortune 500 and 60 percent of the “Best Places” offer it, according to data provided by HRC. Also this year, three-fourths of the Fortune 500 offered explicit gender identity non-discrimination protections in the workplace, and 93 percent of the Fortune 500 offered explicit sexual orientation protections, up 43 percent and 89 percent, respectively, from 2011.

Sincere commitment

Of course, supporting the community is good business. HRC projects that the buying power of the nation’s adult LGBT population will reach hundreds of billions of dollars in 2016. That’s a huge financial incentive for companies to position themselves as equality supporters. And repeated surveys have shown that LGBT people, along with their families and friends, go out of their way to be loyal to supportive companies.

Still, corporate America is aware that LGBT people today expect more than a donation. They want to see a commitment to equality.

Five years ago, corporate gay-friendliness might have been a marketing strategy, says Shaver, but a lot has changed since then. “Working with these large organizations and companies and establishing relationships with them, I think they’re really coming from a place of honest interest,” he says.

Working with PrideFest, Shaver has witnessed that corporate course correction in action.

“A lot of our sponsors now aren’t just on the ground to push products, sell services, or collect email addresses. They are here to help with the festival and participate. It goes far beyond just writing a check, and that’s been a huge cultural shift.”

According to Rena Peng, manager of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program, aligning corporate values with a company’s reputation as a champion of fairness and equality is just one aspect of that shift. The other aspect is a response to internal pressures.

“Companies engage in positive efforts with the LGBT community not only to appear gay-friendly, but also to attract and retain talent, create a welcoming and inclusive workplace so that their LGBT employees can bring their whole selves to work,” Peng says. By providing equitable policies and benefits across their entire workforce, companies position themselves to “be on the right side of history.”

‘Still puts a smile on my face’

While Pride events aren’t protests anymore, they’re not exactly trips to Disneyland. They’re celebrations, with a whiff of a painful history that makes them both emotional and personal.

This year, Toonen and his partner Jan are helping out Harbor Room bar to create a float for the Milwaukee Pride Parade. Plans include a hay wagon stocked with a crop of young men in tight jeans and cowboy hats. Noonen — now age 60 — will ride shotgun in a ’53 Chevy pickup that will be towing the urban cowboys past Milwaukee’s gay bars.

“Pride, to me, isn’t necessarily about Stonewall,” Toonen says. “It’s about my inner feelings, my refusal to hide, and my wish to express what still puts a smile on my face.”

After firing, popular Wal-Mart checker becomes star

A month ago, Frank Swanson was a checker, pretty much a lifer, at Wal-Mart in West Plains, Missouri.

He’s 52, disabled and long known for smiles and hugs. Shoppers loved him. They would purposely get in his line because they wanted to visit with Frank.

But then came April 2, the day of the gallon jug of Red Diamond Sweet Tea and the end of Frank the checkout guy.

Turned out all those hugs and a keen memory for grocery prices made for a volatile cocktail. At least in the way the big-box corporate world played out in this small Ozarks town.

Frank got fired that day. Since then, 800 or so people have attended a rally for him in the store’s parking lot, his name has bounced around social media all over the world, somebody held up a sign with Frank’s name at an Atlanta Braves baseball game, and Jimmy Fallon gave him a shoutout on “The Tonight Show.”

Frank’s termination could be headed to court, and Wal-Mart had to issue a statement explaining to West Plains what happened to the town’s favorite checker.

All this because a woman in Frank’s line that day wanted to buy a gallon of the sweet tea. She told Frank a store in a neighboring town had a sale price that Wal-Mart was supposed to match.

She didn’t have the ad, as required, but she didn’t need it with Frank. He’d always made it a point to keep up with prices at other stores, so he let her have it at the sale price.

That got Frank called in and fired after nearly 20 years.

“The bosses said I made up an imaginary price,” he said.

Frank went to Willow Springs and got an issue of a local paper that showed he was right about the price of tea.

For the record, the other store had the tea on special for $1.98. Wal-Mart’s price: $2.78.

Frank has always had a knack for remembering things. Like the day as a boy when he fell out the back of his grandpa’s pickup after cutting a load of firewood. He suffered paralysis and brain damage.

“Sometimes grandpa would go slow, and sometimes he would go fast,” Frank said.

He said he had stopped hugging customers after he was told to do so. But then people asked if they could hug him.

Wal-Mart issued this statement about Frank:

“Letting an associate go is never easy. It is important to note that we have a progressive discipline policy where performance issues move an associate to the next step. For this associate, point-of-sale policies had not been followed in some instances. A recent violation of those policies moved the associate to the final step of our discipline process, resulting in his dismissal.”

That didn’t satisfy Frank’s fans. They started a Facebook page called “Hugs for Frank” that encouraged people to flood Wal-Mart headquarters in nearby Bentonville, Arkansas, with complaints.

Various accounts had people talking about how Frank cheered their days. One story told how Frank was known to reach into his own pocket to help somebody who came up short.

“They were lucky to have you, Frank,” a woman wrote. “More people should be like you, but sadly, it’s all about the almighty dollar instead of the people. I wish you the very best!! (( HUGS )))

Another: “Hugs for Frank and he needs his job back and the Walmart head bosses need to be fired. He needs his job back and Sam Walmart (Walton) wouldn’t of fired him.”

Frank didn’t want ugliness. He told people that the workers at Wal-Mart — bosses, too — were his friends, and he didn’t want to hear anything mean about them. He has even shopped there since.

So the town threw a party for him. Music, food and, of course, a lot of hugs. Frank signed T-shirts.

On a YouTube video of the event, his brother said most people’s legacies aren’t known until they die.

“Frank can see his today,” Drexel Swanson said.

Customers came from all over. There’s just something about a guy who knew to never put ice cream and sugar in the same bag.

“Makes the sugar hard,” Frank said.

Springfield lawyer Benjamin Stringer said Frank intends to challenge his termination under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against or firing employees because of disabilities.

Frank must first file a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, which will conduct an investigation into Frank’s allegations. Then, if issued a “right-to-sue” letter, Frank intends to pursue the matter vigorously, Stringer said.

“Frank was singled out and fired without cause,” Stringer said.

Meanwhile, Frank has a new job at Ramey supermarket, a couple of miles away. He doesn’t make as much there, but he’s happy. His new bosses like him to be up front to greet people when they come through the door.

So while West Plains may claim Dick Van Dyke, Porter Wagoner and baseball pitcher Preacher Roe, right now the big name in town is Frank Swanson.

“Everybody’s been picking on me about being famous,” he said shyly.

One of the many recent comments written about him said: “Went to Ramey’s twice today, and yep got me a hug from Frank. He has made everyone smile. I think he got more hugs this past month than he ever had. lol.”

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Kansas City Star.

Court rejects corporate bids to toss class action cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected two corporate challenges in class action cases, refusing to hear bids by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wells Fargo to throw out large judgments against them.

Wal-Mart had sought to get rid of a $187 million class action judgment over the retailer’s treatment of workers in Pennsylvania. Wells Fargo Co wanted the justices to toss a $203 million judgment over allegations the bank had imposed excessive overdraft fees.

The court’s decisions on whether to hear the cases had been on hold pending its action in a separate class action case involving Tyson Foods Inc.

On March 22, the court in that case backed workers at a pork facility in Iowa who said they were entitled to overtime pay and damages because they were not paid for the time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment and walking to work stations.

Entering the court’s current term, which began in October, the justices had issued a series of rulings in recent years clamping down on class action litigation, a goal of big business.

But that trend has not continued. The court has heard three important class action cases this term. In January, it ruled against advertising firm Campbell-Ewald and in March ruled against Tyson Foods.

The justices have yet to issue a ruling in a case argued in November in which online people-search service Spokeo Inc sought to avoid a class action lawsuit for including incorrect information in its database.

In declining to hear Wal-Mart’s appeal, the court left intact a 2014 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that largely upheld a lower court judgment awarding the $187 million to the plaintiffs.

The case affects about 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who worked in Pennsylvania between 1998 and 2006.

“We are disappointed the Supreme Court decided not to review our case. While we continue to believe these claims should not be bundled together in a class action lawsuit, we respect the court’s decision,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

The Pennsylvania court mostly upheld a 2007 lower court ruling in favor of the employees, who said the company failed to pay them for all hours worked and prevented them from taking full meal and rest breaks. The appeals court threw out a $37 million attorneys’ fee award and ordered the trial court to recalculate that portion of the judgment.

In the Wells Fargo case, the justices left in place a 2014 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the class action judgment against the bank.

Protest targets Wendy’s billionaire chairman

Hundreds of protesters, led by Ethel Kennedy, demonstrated near the home of the chairman of the Wendy’s fast food chain in hopes of convincing the company to pay a penny-per-pound fee for its tomatoes to supplement some farmworkers’ wages.

The Palm Beach Post reports the Immokalee Coalition of Farmworker’s march near billionaire Nelson Peltz’s home was peaceful on March 12.

A federal judge had ruled the coalition could use loudspeakers but said marchers must remain on the sidewalk.

The coalition, which represents about 40,000 workers, has used demonstrations and sometimes consumer boycotts to pressure the five largest fast-food companies — Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell — into joining its “fair food program.” All but Wendy’s eventually joined.

Peltz, a 73-year-old investor, has a net worth of $1.35 billion and is the 423rd richest American, according to Forbes Magazine.

One of his companies, Triarc, bought Wendy’s in 2008 for $2.3 billion and he became chairman.

Others who live in the area include Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump.


Nigerians sue Shell for oil spills

Tens of thousands of Nigerian fishermen and farmers are suing multinational oil giant Shell in two new lawsuits filed this week in a British High Court, alleging that decades of uncleaned oil spills have destroyed their lives.

London law firm Leigh Day & Co. is representing them after winning an unprecedented $83.5 million in damages from Shell in a landmark ruling by the same court last year. Shell originally offered villagers $50,000.

Statement from Shell

In a statement on March 2 before the trial opened, Shell blamed sabotage and oil theft for the ongoing pollution and noted it had halted oil production in 1993 in Ogoniland, the area where the two communities are located in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern Niger Delta.

Shell said it will challenge the jurisdiction of the British court.

“Asking the English court to intervene … is a direct challenge to the internal political acts and decisions of the Nigerian state,” Shell said.

Pollution since 1950s

The Ogoni are among the most traumatized of millions of Nigerians suffering oil pollution since the late 1950s on a level that human rights activists say would never be allowed in the home countries of the multinationals that operate in Nigeria in joint partnerships with the Nigerian government. Peaceful Ogoni protests in the 1990s were attacked by firing troops who turned the oil-producing south into a war zone. Human rights activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by a military government in 1995.

Typically, victims of oil pollution spend years battling a Nigerian court system, widely criticized by rights groups as corrupt, only to come away with a pittance, so lawyers decided to challenge Shell at its London headquarters.

Wisconsin bill would allow privatization of water supplies

The eyes of the world are on Flint, Michigan right now, as their citizens suffer from lead poisoning simply because they used water from their tap to drink, bathe and cook. The crisis in Flint points to the critical need to have access to clean drinking water and effective sewer systems for the health and well being of any community, and makes us realize that unsafe drinking water is not just a problem in less developed countries.

In fact, it’s a problem right here in Wisconsin — a problem that could get much worse if AB 554 is voted into law.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has taken a deep look at Wisconsin’s water systems and found that tens of thousands of Wisconsinites are at risk from drinking water contaminated with nitrates, lead, pesticides, e coli and other contaminants.

This isn’t just limited to private wells — many municipal water systems are at risk.

In fact, in 2012, researchers definitively linked the presence of viruses in 14 Wisconsin municipal water systems to acute gastrointestinal illness. And, more than 73,000 people use water provided by 60 municipal water systems that do not disinfect, thanks to legislation in 2011 that removed a requirement to disinfect municipal water systems.

AB 554, which will lead to privatization of community water supplies, is another step in a downward march toward more Wisconsinites suffering from unsafe drinking water.

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.

Here’s one way to think about it: Think about when you have a problem with your phone service. You typically spend hours being passed from faceless person to computer system and back to another faceless person who could be anywhere in the world. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, or more to solve the problem.

Now imagine that water starts coming out of your tap brown, your family starts getting sick, and you have to attempt to get help from a faceless, out-of-state private corporation that has no accountability to you or other voters living in the community.

It’s bad enough running into this lack of responsiveness when you’re talking about a phone plan. The health of your family is certainly more important than phone service, and we should treat it that way.

Access to clean drinking water and effective sewer systems is a fundamental necessity, and should be open to public scrutiny. Wisconsin should be investing in these public systems to ensure they are in good repair and provide clean water to our citizens, not selling them off to the lowest bidder.”

See also:

Judge rules DNR can’t impose requirements on walls at large farms

Trail of cancer deaths near plastics factory tied to tap water

Legionnaires outbreak linked to Flint River drinking water fiasco

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to electing conservation leaders, holding decision makers accountable, and encouraging lawmakers to champion conservation policies that effectively protect Wisconsin’s public health and natural resources.

You can follow legislation impacting natural resources on our Conservation Vote Tracker, a real-time accountability tool that provides you with a complete picture of what conservation issues are in play and how legislators are performing: http://conservationvoters.org/vote-tracker/.