The EPA announced Friday it will give $100 million in federal taxpayer funds to the city of Flint, Michigan to replace water pipes that have been leaching lead into locals’ drinking water.
The city is replacing those lead pipes with copper, meaning the Trump administration is almost literally flushing taxpayer money down the drain.
The core of the problem is Flint’s water, which comes from the Flint River. Flint River water is high in negative chloride ions.
That doesn’t make the water itself any less safe to drink, but it is highly corrosive to metal. As Flint River water flowed through the lead pipes connecting homes to the city’s water main, it chemically reacted with the metal. The water slowly ate away at the pipes, leaching lead into the water that flowed into homes. The city is spending local, state and federal tax dollars to replace those lead pipes with copper.
If your local water is corrosive, copper pipes could be the worst possible choice. Copper is highly susceptible to corrosion.
Flint can see its future in places like Laguna Nigel, California. Hoping to cut costs, home builders used cheaper copper pipes in new home construction. Normally, that’s not a problem, but the builder didn’t test the local water. The corrosive local water began eating away at the soft copper, and within a few years thousands of homes were reporting pinhole leaks throughout all the piping.
The builders are spending millions to go back and replace all the copper pipe destroyed by corrosive water. Flint is making that same mistake, and spending your tax dollars to do it.
There are better options. PVC and high density polyethylene pipes, for example, last over 100 years without need for replacement. They are also completely safe and non-toxic — which immediately solves the deadly problems plaguing Flint.
It also could have been installed at no cost to the taxpayer. JM Eagle, the world’s leading producer of PVC pipe, offered to replace all of Flint’s water connections for free.
JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang appeared before the Flint City Council in February 2016 to make the offer.
“I’ve been reading about this water crisis, this contamination issue, which is hurting human beings,” Wang later told Flint’s ABC affiliate. “It’s hurting children and making them sick. There’s a lot of articles written but I don’t see anybody offering a long-term sustainable solution.”
Flint refused the offer of free infrastructure. Why would politicians turn down free stuff?
Making and installing PVC pipe is largely a non-union exercise.
Making and installing copper pipe is a union-dominated trade.
Those unions spend a lot of money electing politicians. They expect something in return.
Unions are lobbying heavily across the country against the use of PVC pipe in local water infrastructure. They’re forcing local taxpayers to foot the bill for pipes that leak, corrode and burst, simply to keep taxpayer dollars flowing into union bank accounts.
Those taxpayer dollars that flow into union bank accounts then find their way back to the politicians that voted to use copper pipe, through direct contributions to campaigns and union-funded volunteers, campaign materials and Get Out The Vote drives.
Rather than give Flint’s children safe, clean, drinking water from free pipes that won’t have to be replaced for at least a century, local politicians are spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars on soft copper pipes that will be corroded through within 20 years — because of political considerations.
And it’s not just having to replace the replacement pipe that’s soaking people. As the corrosive water eats into the copper it will create millions of pinhole leaks in pipes throughout the city. Over the next 20 years millions of gallons of water will leak out of the pipes and into the ground. Even more water will be lost to pipes that burst from corrosion.
That’s a massive cost to the water utility, which must produce even more water to meet the same demand. Local users will have to pay millions of additional dollars in higher bills to recover the costs of the millions of gallons of lost water.
Unless Flint agrees to use PVC pipe, all of this is an exercise in government waste and crass political cronyism. All in all, the Trump administration’s $100 million award is, almost literally, money flushed down the drain.