Newsday Headline Misrepresents SUEZ Performance In Nassau County
Newsday recently published an article on a wastewater public-private partnership in Nassau County, N.Y. The headline boasts, “No savings in Nassau sewer district, despite privatization” before the story outlines all of the different ways in which this claim is misleading.
While we are used to misleading assertions from activist groups like Food & Water Watch, we thought it was curious for a respected publication like Newsday to do the same. The partnership in question has in fact delivered millions in savings and been hailed as a success by lawmakers and environmental groups.
Here are three key points to keep in mind when reading Newsday’s piece:
1. SUEZ DELIVERED $12 MILLION IN SAVINGS IN ITS FIRST YEAR AS NASSAU COUNTY SEWER OPERATOR
After claiming that “no savings” were generated, it took only three paragraphs – a mere 93 words – for Newsday to come to the fact that SUEZ delivered a $12 million payment in savings to the county in its first full year of operating the wastewater system. Notably, this is more than the $10 million in savings required under the partnership contract.
Newsday quotes an even-handed analysis from the Nassau County Office of Legislative Budget Review in its report. The analysis outlines several reasons why directly comparing the 2014 and 2015 sewer district budgets is impossible and unwise – the primary reason being the system had higher costs and a slower than expected transfer of district employees in 2015, leading to seemingly inflated operations and labor expenditures.[i]
These key factors impacted the fiscal picture of the district. But instead of highlighting the analysis’ key finding that the partnership has successfully “[set] a path in which savings can be garnered,”[ii] Newsday reported “no savings” in its headline. As County Executive Edward Mangano told the paper, “Simply put, residents would have paid $10 million more without the public-private partnership which guarantees these savings.”[iii]
2. LOCAL ENVIRONMENTALISTS HAVE HAILED THE PARTNERSHIP AS A GREAT SUCCESS
Furthermore, the partnership is designed to provide both financial and environmental benefits to the community.
After seeing local sewer facilities violate permits, suffer from odor problems, and face consent orders by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a result of underinvestment and poor operations, community leaders realized that running its sewer system in full compliance requires extensive experience and expertise.
Local environmental groups broadly support the partnership and defended SUEZ after the Newsday piece was published. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, told Newsday that “the company has delivered” on environmental promises. “We supported private management as a method to get cleaner bays and a safer environment, and that’s what happened,” Esposito said.[iv]
3. THE ANALYSIS NEWSDAY CITES WAS IN FACT QUITE POSITIVE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE PARTNERSHIP
The Nassau County Office of Legislative Budget Review report found the partnership with SUEZ has successfully “[set] a path in which savings can be garnered,” and that “[SUEZ] expense savings initiatives appear as if they will work in 2016.”[v]
In addition, the report noted that “[the Administration] will not need to use sewer fund balance but will instead add $2.1 million to the sewer fund balance in 2015 for the first time in years.”[vi]
Newsday did not include either of these findings from the County analysis in its report.[vii]