“Corporate monopolies that own railroad bridges, hydroelectric dams, and high-pressure pipelines have skimped on taking care of this infrastructure, putting lives and property across America at unnecessary risk…”
America’s crumbling infrastructure has been given a “D” grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers which recommended $2.2 trillion be spent on maintenance and upgrades of roads, bridges, oil lines, telecommunications systems, and levees that are decaying at a dangerous pace.
Catastrophes like the New Orleans levee breach following Hurricane Katrina and the sudden collapse of an interstate in Minneapolis in 2007 that killed 13 are just two examples of an infrastructure landscape in dire need of modernization. David Cay Johnson recently wrote for Newsweek about the corporate-owned infrastructure of the U.S. and its state of disarray:
Even greater threats can be found among the decrepit corporate-owned infrastructure, including high-pressure oil and natural-gas pipelines that can explode without warning, electric power poles long past their replacement dates, and a telecommunications system that is far less reliable today than it was two decades ago—despite customers paying more than a half-trillion dollars for upgrades.
Our biggest threats, however, may not come from collapsing bridges or oil line explosions. they may come from power outages due to an inefficient and outdated electrical grid. In July, much of India was left without power when their electrical grid failed to keep up with the excess usage caused by a heatwave. That incident left workers trapped in mines and people panicking in the streets.
So, what if that were to happen in the United States? Cay Johnson reminds us of a similar American incident nearly a decade ago:
Who can forget the massive outage that nine years ago knocked out the entire Northeast and parts of Canada. With the events of 9/11 still fresh in their minds, Manhattanites stranded in darkened skyscrapers wondered if terrorists had struck again. But this disaster, which caused $6 billion in damage and resulted in the deaths of six people, was homegrown.
In many ways it seems inevitable and in other ways it seems impossible. Impossible because, in a nation allegedly concerned with job creation above all else, infrastructure building traditionally receives bi-partisan support. But things are different in the austerity-only Tea Party era where the Far Right would rather see American families deteriorate than give President Obama anything resembling a victory on the subject.
Cay Johnson also suggests the impact that deregulation has had on our electrical grid.
Compounding this, the corporate monopolies that supply two thirds of America’s electricity have fired tens of thousands of linemen and other workers whose jobs were to maintain the grid.
Under the banner of deregulation, the monopolies that supply electricity, water, gasoline, natural gas, and Internet access have been hollowing out the privately owned infrastructure on which modern life and economic activity depend. Instead of putting more into maintenance, they have slashed budgets. At the same time, they earn phenomenal profits: up to 55 percent on their assets, eight times the average for all corporations.
Corporate monopolies that own railroad bridges, hydroelectric dams, and high-pressure pipelines have skimped on taking care of this infrastructure, putting lives and property across America at unnecessary risk from blackouts, collisions, and explosions, even the threat of entire towns being washed away by bursting dams.
Pipelines are also central to Cay Johnson’s critique. He questions the quality of our current pipeline infrastructure. While utilities are taking in money for improvements, they are often not spending it. He uses the example of Pacific Gas & Electric to prove his point:
Pacific Gas & Electric, which owns the San Bruno pipeline, got a series of rate increases in the last decade that included money to replace its 2.3 million power poles on a 50-year cycle. But instead of 46,000 poles each year, the utility replaced about 3,000. At that rate, the last pole now in use would have to remain standing until the year 2778.
Not taking care of equipment may seem like a dumb strategy. It would, for sure, doom any competitive business. But for a monopoly utility, diverting money from inspecting, repairing, and replacing equipment can make economic sense. When lots of poles fall, interrupting the flow of electricity that defines modern life, or a pipeline ruptures, blocking the passage of fuel to heat our homes, the utility company can get an emergency rate increase that the public is sure to back as long as they don’t know about the past diversions from infrastructure repair to executive pay. Best of all for the utility, unless consumers bird-dog a case, any “temporary” rate hike will likely be permanent.
Read this entire, fascinating piece via The Daily Beast.