Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Detroit needs a power upgrade. Detroit needs a New Deal.

(In rural America, during the New Deal, a woman happily looks at her new electric meter, provided by the Rural Electrification Administration. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

As if dealing with a plutocratic water delivery system, and a municipal bankruptcy that reduced the income of its senior citizens, was not bad enough, Detroit just experienced a major power outage "that plunged Detroit's schools, fire stations, traffic signals and public buildings into darkness..." The cause? Yep, you guessed it: Aging infrastructure (see "Detroit power failure raises alarms across the country").

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation's energy infrastructure a letter grade of D+ and noted that "America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution system, some of which originated in the 1880s."

During the New Deal, policymakers modernized and expanded much of the nation's energy infrastructure. For example, brushing aside anti-rural-energy lobbying from Corporate America, they created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Wealthy corporate executives & investors had been rabidly opposed to the idea of bringing electricity to rural Americans, largely because they couldn't see how they could get rich from it. So, out of spite, they opposed (and in some cases hindered) the government's effort to bring power to rural America.

Ultimately, REA and TVA brought power to where it was needed and, indeed, the agencies were so wildly successful that their legacies live on today (see, for example, REA Energy Cooperative Inc. and Tennessee Valley Authority). Ironically, the TVA is so loved that even Republicans are protective of it (see "Obama Proposal to Sell TVA Blasted by Republicans").

In addition to REA and TVA, other New Deal programs brought power to the people too. For example, WPA workers (formerly unemployed) built 49 new electric power plants and put up 3,358 miles of new electric power lines.

Detroit needs a New Deal. But then, so do we all.

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