This month, the Value of Water Campaign joined about a dozen other organizations to co-host the Moving America Forward: A Presidential Candidate Forum on Infrastructure, Jobs, and Building a Better America. This was the first ever candidate forum focused solely on infrastructure. It was held February 16, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Major candidates from both parties were invited and Joe Biden, Tom Steyer, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg participated.
Acclaimed journalists Gerald Seib and Jeanne Cummings of the Wall Street Journal moderated the forum, asking questions about infrastructure to each candidate in front of a live audience at the University of Nevada. 500 people filled the ballroom, including several dozen Value of Water Campaign supporters. Millions more tuned in via C-Span, the livestream, and on social media. Every single candidate was asked about water. Many of the questions were submitted by members of the Value of Water Campaign. Here are some of the highlights:
Climate Resilience and Innovation
Many of the candidates spoke about the need to both repair and modernize our aging infrastructure systems in the context of a changing climate. When Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked about whether to prioritize fixing broken systems or invest in newer technology, he responded: I think that’s a false choice. I think you do both. You start with fixing the broken systems in a modern way… (Clip: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4855737/user-clip-joe-biden-rebuilding-infrastructure)
When Tom Steyer was asked what he would do to address drought and climate change, he brought up the technological advances in water treatment that will play a role in increasing climate resilience:“There is an extreme need on our part to collect water more carefully, to use more carefully, and to reuse water more efficiently…Our ability to capture rainwater is much higher than we understand and our ability to reuse water in new water treatment facilities is much better than we understand. While the climate crisis is absolutely putting a lot of pressure on water… our capabilities and technology on water are far better than people understand. And we are actually going to be able to solve this problem.” (Clip: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4855742/user-clip-tom-steyer-discusses-water-technology)
Many of the candidates spoke about Flint and the broader equity problems introduced by aging or failing water infrastructure. According to Tom Steyer:“It’s not just that we have old pipes. Flint wasn’t a story about old pipes, just so you understand. Flint was a story about a state governor and state administration switching essentially an all-black city from safe drinking water onto the Flint River… We’re going to have to spend a ton of money fixing up those pipes, that’s true. But when you go around the United States and see who lives in Flint, MI and who lives in Denmark SC, and who lives in San Joaquin Valley and East Porterville, the places you get sick from drinking the water. We are poisoning black and brown communities at a completely different level than everyone else. When I talk about climate, I start with Environmental Justice, and I always have.” (Clip: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4855748/user-clip-tom-steyer-discusses-flint-water-crisis)
Pete Buttigieg pointed to his plan for Drinking Water Assistance Fund, and said, “This is especially important for low income communities, because things like the lessons of Flint. To me this is actually a question of freedom. Because part of your freedom depends on the fact that chances are, even in this room full of people who like to geek out on infrastructure, virtually none of got up in the morning wondering how and whether we could get a glass of safe drinking water, it’s just there. And the moment you can’t take it for granted, is the moment you lose a degree of freedom because you got to worry about that. As has happened in communities that are almost always low-income communities, and almost always communities of color. So this is a question of justice.” (Clip: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4855656/user-clip-pete-buttigieg-water-assistance-plan)
Making Water Visible
Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg both brought up how water projects can sometimes be overshadowed by other projects and issues, but that they are critical to the economy and vitality of our country. Amy Klobuchar explained:“One of the interesting things about water projects, is that they aren’t always the bright shiny object for the political ribbon cutting, that you have with highway overpasses or a brand-new commuter rail system. But they are just as important…Water is going to be a very hot topic and has not been addressed at a federal level as it should be. Ad it’s something that me, from the land of 10,000 lakes, would be more than happy to make one of my priorities.” (Clip: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4855751/user-clip-amy-klobuchar-discusses-water)
Pete Buttigieg received an enthusiastic response from the audience when he opened his remarks with: “Infrastructure is a mayor’s native language. I’m so excited to finally be with a group of people who care about wastewater as much as I do!” (Clip: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4855651/user-clip-pete-buttigieg-wastewater)
The candidate forum, titled “Moving America Forward,” was organized by the non-partisan group, United for Infrastructure, and the host committee includes the International Union of Operating Engineers; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; North America’s Building Trades Unions; Transport Workers Union of America; American Society of Civil Engineers; American Public Transportation Association; American Council of Engineering Companies; American Road and Transportation Builders Association; Value of Water Campaign; Association of Equipment Manufacturers; Airports Council International-North America; and Build Together.
You can still watch the entire event at www.infrastructureforum.org.