Donald Correll, chief executive of American Water Works Inc., Voorhees, just joined the board of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby, at a time when business has fewer friends than usual. We asked him why. Highlights:
On the Chamber's role as a champion of capitalism: "They have probably been the strongest proponent of the free enterprise system. That is what drew our organization, certainly me, to them.
"It is fair to say the 'free enterprise system' is not the most popular term at the moment across the country or in Washington. Despite its success and all the contributions it's made over the past 200 years...
"Last week, coincident with my first board meeting, (the Chamber) announced a $100 million committment over the next several months and years to really educate the American public and Washington about the role of private enterpirse. Bringing some balance to the debate, and really a history lesson is needed and welcome..."
On AWW's re-emergence as a public company: "We are one of the largest investor-owned service companies in the country... The private sector has always had a role in dealing with the water and wastewater infrastructure...
"In the last three years since American Water has been positioning itself to being publicly traded again (after its spinoff by Germany's RWE Aktiengesellschaft) we've had an increasing outreach program with the local municipalities... at the state level where many of our environmental regulations are set and governed... (Joining the Chamber) is to position American Water Works in Washington, with the largest voice there is in private enterprise."
On AWW's national agenda: "We wanted to advance the notion (that water and wastewater are) needed in infrastructure investment, beyond roads and bridges and highways... We hope to be able to participate in having water infrastructure be part of the dialogue in Washington and really show what the private sector can do in that regard."
On Obama's support for private water in the "stimulus" program: "If you don't have a voice and you don't have a place in line you're not likely to be included....
"Working with the National Association of Water Companies, the American Water Works Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (PUCs), we all joined in when everybody else was getting in a long line last fall to talk about the needs lists and the wish lists. We collectively made a pitch for what the needs were on water and wastewater infrastructure as well.... We were pleased there was $6 billion in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure (through) state revolving fund financing... Also private-activity bond cap allocation, another $15 billion of eligible tax financing. We have applied in a number of jurisdictions for additional tax exempt capacity," including parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
On working with government: While most water systems -- with the exception of Philadelphia's -- were once private, most were eventually purchased by local governments. So private water operators are "regulated monopolies with franchise areas. We had to depend on the government sector for adjusting our rates, gettting permits for street openings and new water supplies, and to open a tank, and for tax exempt financing and to deal with environmental regulations. We've always coexisted. We can operate in that arena. It's not a binary solution where you have to be public or private. We can show there are some options for working together."