Disaster Capitalism’s Coming Use of The Lead Water Pipe Crisis

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Glen Ford, founder of Black Agenda Report, says the water pipe crisis will be used to justify previous goals of gentrifying more urban areas and creating massive wealth for elite corporations

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Story Transcript

JARED BALL, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

Seven million lead water pipes nationwide calls for massive replacement of that infrastructure, combined with the legacies of labeling mostly black and poor neighborhoods as blighted, or as signifying a justifiable impending enforced removal of those populations, has led our next guest to suggest that this water pipe crisis will be turned into just the disaster capitalist [have been] necessary to legitimize those previously arrived at conclusions. Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report, is back with us to discuss all of this for his Ford Report. Glen, welcome back to the Real News.

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thanks for having a place for me.

BALL: So please lay it out for us. How is this national water lead water pipe crisis going to be used by disaster capitalism?

FORD: I think this is going to creep up on us. You know, when people first learned about the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, folks were all upset, righteously, about the criminality of the state and the federal officials involved, and they were horrified by the sheer scale of the threat, the public, the health threat that looms. And it looms not just over Flint but over communities all around the country.

According to USA Today, about 2,000 city and county water systems are infected with lead. And the problem is most acute in the older cities, and in older housing, even in cities that aren’t that old, because that’s where the pipes are more likely to be made out of lead. And that of course is where, disproportionately, black people live. In Chicago, for example, up until the 1980s, they had a housing code that mandated that lead be used in the pipes. Washington, DC, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this, Jared, spent almost $400 million trying to replace pipes, and then stopped doing that when the job was only half done, because they said that it was too expensive. And we know that there are lots of cities, and most of them are heavily black and poor, that already have higher levels of lead than Flint, Michigan does.

So clearly the United States is facing a horrific public health crisis. And this health crisis must be addressed. But it also means that the perfect conditions have been created for disaster capitalists, and these disaster capitalists not only want to privatize the water systems all over the country, they only got 12 percent ownership of water systems in the U.S., so that means there’s 88 percent to go. That’s a huge growth market, as far as they’re concerned. They not only want to do this big privatization cash-in, but they want to move black people and poor people out of potentially profitable urban real estate. And this presents them with a perfect opportunity. They want to use this lead poisoning crisis to privatize the water and also to remove black people from the cities.

It’s estimated that it would cost $1 trillion to replace the lead pipes in the country. That’s one thousand million dollars. So unless the federal government picks up the whole tab for replacing these pipes then the states, states like Michigan, but a whole lot of them, they’re going to use this disaster to sell off the water systems, and they’ll say that that’s in order to pay for the pipes. And the cities, of course, which are starved for cash under all circumstances, they’ll be under the same pressures.

We have to understand that in most localities, the government only pays for replacement of the pipes up to the boundary of the private property. And after that, either the homeowner or the landlord has to pay for replacing the pipes. In low-income areas that means a mandatory replacement of pipes rule would cause homeowners to go bankrupt, and it would also prompt landlords to try to pass on the cost of the pipe replacement to their tenants through raising the rents. Cities and counties will use this health emergency to declare a blight on these poor and black communities.

And they’ve already been doing that, in fact, for decades. Really, for generations. Saying that poor communities were blighted and then forcing the people to leave. Only now with this national lead crisis we see the scenario developing all around the country. So the only possible way to prevent this national health emergency from turning into a black removal project all across the country is for the federal government to pick up the tab, this $1 trillion tab, to fix it. If we leave it to the states and the cities it’s going to be a demographic disaster for us.

BALL: It sounds like some of the critiques I heard a couple years ago around the effort led, I believe, by Van Jones to move towards a greening of the economy and eco-capitalism, as if this would in and of itself take care of all the problems undergirding these surface manifestations. But as Public Enemy once said famously, and I hear you repeating now, Glen, don’t believe the hype.

FORD: You know, they can turn any, not just disaster, but any good cause into a very bad result for us. And that’s why we, we have to–we’re always urged to become more sophisticated. But I, I think that sophistication means that we have to study the movements and motives of capital, and understand that they can create a situation when even a campaign for public health could cause a reason, can be turned into a black removal excuse.

BALL: Well, Glen Ford, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News Network.

FORD: Thank you.

BALL: And thank you all for joining us, wherever you are. Again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.

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