Column: No free water for Nestlé

Dan Haberman
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Two recent water-related decisions from our state government highlight a clear and concerning disconnect between the way in which our state treats its residents and how it rewards giant corporate business.

In the same week that the state granted Nestlé the right to profit off our most valuable natural resource, it announced that the people of Flint would no longer receive free bottled water. While the outcome and timing of these decisions is absurd, it’s even more troubling that the majority of Republicans in Lansing and the Republican caucus in D.C. don’t seem to care.

Nestlé recently received approval to increase its pumping of Michigan water from 250 to 400 gallons per minute for an annual fee of just $200. Public comments were 99 percent opposed to the Nestlé increase. It didn’t matter. The increased output proposal also failed to pass the state’s water withdrawal assessment tool.

Days later, the state announced it would no longer provide free bottled water to a city it previously poisoned. The lead-tainted pipes have not all been replaced. It didn’t matter. Residents understandably don’t trust the “all clear” of those who caused the problem.

At a base level, we must protect and value our natural resources. Access to clean, safe drinking water is a human right. The Nestlé and Flint actions are backward — the corporate reseller should be paying for water while those in need of basic rights deserve proper access. Why do our elected officials think they can ignore the injustices?

It’s time to restore decency and competence to our government. When we give away our water for a tiny fraction of its value, that’s not competent. When we refuse to give clean drinking water to a city poisoned by the state, that’s not decent. We can make a clear choice to be better than this. We can treat our residents well and refuse to be taken advantage of by giant corporations looking to profit off our natural resources.

If Michigan treated these corporations like our residents, the math would be dramatically different. If Nestlé were a resident of Troy, for example, its cost to pump out 400 gallons per minute of Michigan water would be roughly $1.85 million a year. Instead, Michigan receives only $200 and, at the same time, our environment is harmed.

Our state has a number of environmental problems beyond Nestlé, and all of them deserve attention — Flint, Line 5, invasive species, the proposed “Drain the Streams” bill, and even Canadian dumping, where we charge our neighbors about 1-2 percent of market value for the honor of housing their waste. We aren’t just causing or ignoring environmental problems, we’re also allowing outside entities to take advantage of Michigan.

If we want to fix these problems, we must stand together and demand environmental policies that are decent and competent. We must apply an approach and analysis that includes both site-specific impact and long-term regional effect. We must recognize that we have been treating giant corporations like charity cases and our most vulnerable citizens like criminals. We must increase funding for the Department of Environmental Quality to bring back a backlog of lost talent, and we must not place a former BP oil executive at its helm. Finally, we must remove the bottled water loophole from the Great Lakes Compact.

Our natural resources belong to all of us; let’s stand together to demand a government that protects the future of our state.

Dan Haberman is a Democratic candidate running for the 11th Congressional district.

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