Co-Manager, Climate & Energy Program
COVID-19 makes clear energy and water are public goods
The latest jobless claims report verifies that workers are being sent home in droves due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Unemployed or with no hours on their timesheet, April 1 looms large with rent and utility bills due. As they stay home to do their part to stop the transmission of this virus, they are confronted with the possibility that they may lose water to wash their hands, electricity to keep them warm in quarantine and internet to keep them in communication with loved ones.
The bill the Senate passed on Wednesday, and poised to be approved by the House on Friday, does provide for a one-off cash transfer and increases in unemployment benefits. There have also been promises of protections for some tenants from eviction. But this does nothing to address the mounting expenses of rent, bills and debt that households across America are suddenly unable to cover.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of deep vulnerabilities in our energy and water systems. Rates for these basic services are unaffordable. But these services are essential for our survival, and acutely so. At the same time, they are making our communities sicker through old, lead water pipes and polluting energy infrastructure. Whether due to private control or public austerity, our infrastructure suffers from chronic underinvestment combined with ever-climbing rates.
The flip side is that investment paired with public, democratic control will make us all more secure. We need to guarantee rights to publicly owned and climate-ready water and energy systems. We must also commit to a permanent moratorium on shutoffs and ensuring that rates are perennially affordable.
When the pandemic recedes, we need a Green Stimulus that puts millions to work improving our inadequate water and energy infrastructure and transitioning to renewable sources.