Energy & Environment

Park Service report: Obama water bottle sales ban had 'significant' benefits

An internal National Park Service (NPS) staff report concluded that an Obama administration effort to ban sales of bottled water at some parks had "significant environmental benefits."

The report was released more than a month after the NPS rescinded the policy, which had been opposed by the bottled water industry and some Republicans.

In the report prepared in May, NPS staff estimated that on an annual basis, at least 1.32 million disposable plastic water bottles, and up to 2.01 million, were not purchased due to the 2011 policy.

That saved up to 111,743 pounds of plastic, 141 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases and 3.4 billion British thermal units of energy, the NPS report estimated, based on the 23 Park Service units that submitted data.

The results demonstrate "the program has significant positive environmental benefits that encompass the entire life cycle" of disposable bottles, and that officials at the parks themselves support the program, the report said.

In a preface to the 16-page report, the agency distanced itself from the conclusions, saying it was prepared to help leaders understand the policy and it "lacked the data necessary to ensure the report's findings."

Nonetheless, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) used the report to call for the NPS to reinstate Obama's policy.

"This newly released report makes it clear as day that the Trump administration will continue to deny science, research, and facts in its efforts to prioritize big corporations at the expense of our wildlife and environment," he said in a statement. "We know that this is an issue where a simple and reasonable solution would have a profound impact as we work to preserve our pristine natural places."

Corporate Accountability International used the report to criticize the bottled water industry's advocacy.

"The bottled water industry has led a years-long campaign against this commonsense policy, all to protect its bottom line. The fact that Trump administration officials knew the benefits of this policy back in May but still decided to rescind it last month, sure looks to me like the bottled water industry's lobbying dollars at work," Lauren DeRusha Florez, associate campaign director with the group, said in a statement.

The 2011 policy encouraged each of the hundreds of units within the Park Service to ban the sales of water in disposable plastic bottles, in the name of sustainability. It left the decisions about such bans up to individual park superintendents.

To ban bottled water, parks had to complete extensive research into how it would affect parkgoers, install water bottle filling stations and complete other steps.

The bottled water industry, led by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), fought the policy tooth-and-nail, arguing that it deprived parkgoers of a healthy drink option.

The group dismissed the NPS report, noting the agency's disclaimer that it "lacked the data necessary" to ensure its findings.

"Therefore nothing in this report can be considered accurate and the information should not be relied upon in evaluating the effectiveness of this flawed policy," said IBWA spokeswoman Jill Culora.

When it repealed the policy last month, the NPS said it "removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks."

"While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods," Acting NPS Director Michael Reynolds said.

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