Watch Out: Pants are on Fire with Misinformation About Water Companies - Truth from the Tap

TFTT Report

Watch Out: Pants are on Fire with Misinformation About Water Companies

There continues to be a vocal minority dead set on spreading misinformation about Pennsylvania’s regulated, private water companies. From faulty rate comparisons to scare tactics about control and regulation – and everything in between – they seem to be throwing accusations into the water like pebbles to see which one causes the biggest ripple.

The activists aren’t simply stretching the truth – their pants are on fire!

Pants on Fire Claim #1: Activists claim that working with a Pennsylvania regulated, private water company brings no benefits to communities.

Reality Check #1: Is more reliable service a benefit? Is safer, higher-quality water a benefit? Is more resilient water infrastructure a benefit? Yes to all the above!

In recent testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, one executive from a government-run water authority submitted a piece in which he called for “a side-by-side comparison of actual operational performance records…to validate whether the customers are being served better by private or public systems.” You asked for it. You got it!

  • The data clearly show that Pennsylvania’s regulated, private water companies deliver safer water than municipal systems in the Commonwealth. Systems owned and operated by Pennsylvania’s water companies – which serve 4.4 million customers – are 4 percent less likely to have a health-based Safe Drinking Water Act violation than government-run systems in the Commonwealth.
  • Further, a 2023 study found that Pennsylvania water companies are 10 to 100 times less likely to have a water quality violation than other system owners like local governments.
  • Further, the strategic infrastructure investment made by these water companies – more than $800 million annually – keeps infrastructure strong and service reliable for Pennsylvania residents and employers and protects our environment from losing this precious resource to leaky pipes. Financial records for municipal systems and authorities show they invest less in water infrastructure than Pennsylvania’s water companies.

Pants on Fire Claim #2: No matter how many times experts denounce the practice, activists’ favorite tactic continues to be faulty rate comparisons.

Reality Check #2: Experts condemn rate comparisons because they disregard extremely important factors like investment, reliability, safety and quality. When water providers – both private and government-run – are doing their job and properly investing in their systems, rates sometimes are higher. But the reality is that water that is unsafe to drink is unjust at any price. And when water is unsafe to drink and customers must turn to bottled water – you can be sure they are paying more in the end. Further, Pennsylvania’s water companies are rate regulated by the independent Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), which means that these companies must go through a rigorous approval process to justify the rates being charged to customers, something government-run systems do not have to do.

Pants on Fire Claim #3: When left with nothing but unsubstantiated claims, activists turn to fear mongering about corporate profits.

Reality Check #3: Pennsylvania’s regulated, private water companies have an over $1 billion economic impact on the Commonwealth and collectively invest more than $800 million annually to help update community water infrastructure and to keep water safe and service reliable. Further, Pennsylvania’s water companies are woven into the fabric of the communities they serve. More than 2,000 Pennsylvanians work for a water company, and water companies support an additional 11,300 jobs – these are our friends, neighbors and family members not the “corporate vulture” activists try to paint them as. 

Pants on Fire Claim #4: Activists distort the purpose of Pennsylvania’s Act 12 and claim that water companies are going after “healthy” systems.

Reality Check #4: The truth is that communities with distressed water systems can greatly benefit from selling to a regulated, private water company. They get investment, operational expertise, and funds that can be used to help with other local priorities. But there are also instances where a municipality wants to get out of the business of operating a complex water system even if the system is not considered distressed. Both types of communities in Pennsylvania have benefited from Act 12. Voluntarily selling water and wastewater systems is an effective way to offload utility risk, monetize assets and focus resources on other local needs. This may include paying down debt, funding pension obligations, making other infrastructure improvements, investing in economic development initiatives or expanding local government services.

Pants on Fire Claim #5: When all their other attacks on water companies fall flat, activists go after the state’s Public Utility Commission.

Reality Check #5: The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has been effectively overseeing the Commonwealth’s regulated utilities since 1937. On the water side, the PA PUC sets water rates, audits expenditures and approves investment plans. The result is the delivery of the safest water at the lowest possible cost. Similar independent oversight does not occur for government-run systems.

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