Dismantling Iron Pipe’s Monopoly Will Benefit Consumers

Dismantling Iron Pipe’s Monopoly Will Benefit Consumers
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As outside temperatures fall, we will soon see a predictable rise in the number of iron pipe water main breaks across our nation. The looming water infrastructure debate in Congress will be vital in addressing that problem, as Members will decide how to address our nation’s corroding iron pipe water system. Fortunately, when it comes to determining the best material to replace what’s now underground, lawmakers will base those decisions on the facts – not on the claims of iron pipe surrogates, posturing as independent thought leaders, advancing the industry’s monopolistic agenda.

Iron water pipes are failing our nation at an alarming rate. And that’s no surprise, because iron pipe – particularly today’s ductile iron pipe – simply isn’t built to last. According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA), ductile iron pipes with the thinnest walls (representing the majority of metallic pipes sold) in moderately corrosive soils have a life expectancy of only 11-14 years. That’s significant, since corrosive soils affect 75 percent of utilities in North America.

Burton, Michigan, recently reported that its ductile iron pipe – installed only 15 years ago – is already failing. And studies further demonstrate that cement-mortar linings, used in ductile iron pipes, may fail or degrade between 10 and 30 years, due to structural issues and chemical leaching.   

The good nes is that material innovations have taken place in recent decades, which no longer require municipalities to rely on antiquated iron pipe systems. An increasing number of cities across the nation are turning to PVC pipe, because they know it’s the best material that can do the job today.

PVC pipe is made to go the distance. It lasts twice as long as iron pipe, and can withstand some of the most punishing temperatures throughout North America. In fact, the majority of Canada’s water infrastructure is PVC pipe. NSF International has approved it for the delivery of safe drinking water – and its lightweight construction, along with its low repair and replacement rate, translates to a lower carbon footprint than iron pipe, too.

And when it comes to saving taxpayers money, no other material can match it. It’s why Burton, Michigan selected affordable and durable PVC pipes over iron pipes, because it allowed the city to replace more service lines, and equip more homes and hydrants, with reliable pipes and strong water pressure.

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA), the voice of the iron pipe industry, isn’t pleased with PVC pipe’s success across America. That’s why they have been fighting to prevent PVC pipe from even being considered as a possible replacement option in local communities. DIPRA wants to preserve iron pipe’s monopoly by making it the only material available – enabling the industry to charge whatever it pleases for an inferior product, one that needs frequent replacement compared to corrosion-proof PVC pipe.

DIPRA wants the public to think this restrictive approach will somehow help consumers. But everyone knows open competition reduces prices, incentivizes innovation – and creates an environment where the market determines who wins, and who loses. And the facts show open competition can save communities anywhere from 30 to 50 percent even when iron pipe is chosen over PVC pipe as the replacement material.

Yael Ossowski, representing a group called the “Consumer Choice Center,” effusively praised iron pipe in a recent op-ed. We found that curious, because we’d never heard of him or his organization before. And we couldn’t locate any evidence to suggest that either had any past experience on water pipe technology matters. But we did find it amusing to see this group, which purports to stand for consumer choice, defend an industry that wants to eliminate competition and make only one material option available to the public.

Iron pipe surrogates – some of the same folks demanding greater accountability in government – seem to want federal lawmakers to blindly finance state water infrastructure projects, without engaging any state oversight regarding how those resources are best spent.

They can’t have it both ways. Proper checks and balances must be in place to ensure federal infrastructure funds are utilized appropriately at the state level.

And those who believe this reasonable expectation is an infringement by the federal government should demand that states use their own money to fund their own projects.

Isn’t that a responsible approach that best protects the interests of the American public?

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