Skip to main content

To: PA Legislature

PA Lawmakers, Water Is Life. Privatizing It Is Not An Option.

PA Lawmakers, Water Is Life. Privatizing It Is Not An Option.

The Water Quality Accountability Act, SB 597, is a thinly-veiled attempt to get municipalities to sell their water systems to private water companies by heaping so many added costs and responsibilities on them that selling the systems is the only viable option. Thanks to earlier legislation that allows companies to pass along the costs of these acquisitions to their rate payers, along with the need to deliver good returns to investors, people in communities that have privatized have seen their water bills skyrocket. Don't deprive Pennsylvanians of access to the water they need to survive. Vote NO on SB 597.

Why is this important?

A handful of companies want to own our community water systems in Pennsylvania.

It's a power play in three acts that started with the passage of legislation in 2012 that would allow companies to pass along the costs of acquiring systems to their rate payers.

Act 2 in 2016 was the passage of legislation that would allow municipalities to sell their water systems to these companies for "fair market value."

The curtain rose on Act 3 this year with the introduction of SB 597, the so-called Water Quality Accountability Act that heaps costs and reporting requirements on municipalities to entice them to sell their systems.

Walter Lynch, CEO of American Water Works, has made no bones about the bill’s real intent. Here’s an excerpt from a Q4 2020 earnings call.

Asked if any type of emerging state legislation would help facilitate Mergers & Acquisitions, Lynch responded, “Well, let me start with [the] Water Quality Accountability Act that started in New Jersey that two other states have adopted. I think that is being considered in other states within our footprint. So I would look out for that primarily in the Midwest and that again, establishes standards that are uniform across the sector, whether a municipally-owned or investor-owned, around cybersecurity, some of the challenges there, around pipe replacement rates, about long-term asset management plans. And that's been instrumental in many of the discussions we've had in the states where we operate that have that legislation. So I think it's a wake up call for many municipalities to say, maybe we should talk to American Water about selling assistance.”

And here’s Lynch during an investor call a year earlier, “We work with state legislators and regulators to come up with rule making and legislation that enables these acquisitions to happen. And we’ve been doing this for a decade, and we’ve been very successful at it.”

American Water Works is a member of the National Association of Water Companies, the industry front group that wrote the bill before pushing it in several states. Robert Powelson is President and CEO of NAWC. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he was the chair of the PA Public Utility Commission before spending a year at FERC approving natural gas interstate transmission pipelines and then heading to NAWC.

When the PA Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure took up the bill, committee chair Senator Tommy Tomlinson did a gut and replace maneuver that removed all of the language of the bill and put it in an amendment with one important alteration. The bill was written as an amendment to Title 25. Tomlinson's amendment changed that to Title 66. In plain English, it means he took the bill out of the authority of the Department of Environmental Protection and handed it to the Public Utility Commission. The amended bill was approved by the committee with bipartisan support.

Tomlinson's former chief of staff is the lobbyist for Aqua America. The company's Government Relations chief spent six years as a staffer in PA legisative offices, including a stint in the Speaker's office. And speaking of the Speaker, Mike Turzai went to work for Essential Utilities the day after resigning from the House. Essential Utilities is Aqua's new name now that it has expanded into the gas business with the purchase of Peoples Gas.

PA American Water has its own tie to our legislature. They hired their lobbyist right after his mother, Kim Ward, became Senate Majority Leader in January.

Outside of the customary, and all-too-often successful, grip of the industry are many who have expressed concerns about the Water Quality Accountability Act. The PA Rural Water Association, the PA Municipality Authorities Association, and the Water Works Operators' Association of PA have written letters opposing the legislation. According to PA Environmental Digest, the PA State Association of Township Supervisors, PA State Association of Boroughs and the PA Municipal League also oppose the legislation.

This petition is a companion to a sign on letter I'll be delivering in the coming weeks. To see a version of the letter with all of the hyperlinks you can follow to get even more information about dangerous bill, visit If your organization would like to sign the letter, please use our sign-on form you can find at

Tell your legislators to protect community water systems and your affordable access to water by voting NO to SB 597.


2021-06-17 13:55:37 -0400

1,000 signatures reached

2021-06-16 13:47:23 -0400

500 signatures reached

2021-06-16 11:37:35 -0400

100 signatures reached

2021-06-16 11:32:41 -0400

50 signatures reached

2021-06-16 11:30:48 -0400

25 signatures reached

2021-06-16 11:30:10 -0400

10 signatures reached