White House Ends Ban on Selling Bottled Water at National Parks

CC BY 2.0. Michael Quinn/Grand Canyon NPS/Flickr

In the latest from a death of a thousand cuts, White House sides with bottled water lobbyists to encourage plastic pollution in parks.

Six years ago the Obama administration enacted a ban on selling bottled water at National Parks. The action, Policy Memorandum 11-03, commonly referred to as the “Water Bottle Ban,” was designed to help alleviate the deleterious burden of plastic. The Washington Post writes:

“National parks, as premier tourist destinations, use taxpayer dollars to manage the burden of discarded plastic water bottles,” said an earlier memorandum by the Park Service’s facility management division. “Notably, this is a relatively new financial burden, with global sales of bottled water quadrupling between 1990 and 2005.”
The memo said the division’s decision was based on “the 50 billion plastic water bottles” disposed of by Americans each year and the “approximately 20 billion barrels of oil” required during production – when millions of tons of greenhouse-gas pollution are generated that contribute to global warming.

Of the 900 tons of garbage recycled by Grand Canyon National Park, 30 percent of it was estimated to be comprised of water bottles. And while only 23 of the country’s park had implemented the Obama-era policy, more were to follow and the cumulative effect was expected to be significant. Many parks now have water stations throughout specifically for refilling bottles.

But now, according to a press release from the National Parks Service, the ban is kaput:

The 2011 policy, which encouraged national parks to eliminate the sale of disposable water bottles, has been rescinded to expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks.

Curiously (or not) the statement sounds quite a bit like the arguments used by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) in their campaign against the ban.

Even more curiously (or not) the new direction came a mere three weeks after the Senate confirmation of David Bernhardt as deputy interior secretary. As The Post reports, “Bernhardt is a former lobbyist with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has represented one of the largest water bottlers in the United States...”

Critics of Bernhardt have called him a “walking conflict of interest” because of his work for corporations opposed to Interior Department regulations devoted to promoting clean air and water. “Under Trump, the Department of the Interior appears to be working hand in hand with the bottled-water industry to do its bidding,” says Lauren DeRusha Florez, who works for the non-profit group Corporate Accountability International.

I guess it’s hard to drain the swamp when it’s clogged with plastic water bottles. Even so, I wonder if we will see the parks subtly defy the policy discontinuation. "We know that many of our parks want to do away with bottled water," writes Florez. "Let's make sure they know that we support them in that move, even if the current administration doesn't."