Things Don’t Always Go Better With Coke

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Things Don’t Always Go Better With Coke

Did Corporate Donation Sway Reversal of Grand Canyon Plastic Water Bottle Ban?

Washington, DC — Just days before Grand Canyon National Park instituted a ban on sale of individual plastic water bottles, the ban was indefinitely suspended on orders from the Director of the National Park Service (NPS).  After receiving reports that this abrupt about-face was tied to large donations from the Coca Cola Company, which sells bottled water, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today filed a lawsuit to obtain records on this policy u-turn after NPS declined to surrender them.

Disposable plastic water bottles represent nearly one-third of Grand Canyon’s waste stream.  To reduce litter, save money from trash hauling, and shrink its greenhouse gas footprint, in 2010 the park told its concessionaires to prepare to cease all individual-size plastic water bottle sales by January 1, 2011.  Both Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks have already imposed similar bans.

According to documents obtained by PEER from Grand Canyon under the Freedom of Information Act –

  • Grand Canyon spent more than $310,000 to build ten new water “filling stations” so that visitors using canteens or other reusable containers would have ample access to high quality water;
  • On December 22, 2010, little more than week before it became effective, then-Superintendent Steve Martin informed park concessionaires in a terse letter that the ban is “delayed until further notice.  The Director of the National Park Service is supportive of the park’s direction but is reviewing the matter further and will advise us in due time.”; and
  • The NPS provided no written explanation to the park of the reasons for Director’s action, no indication of what aspect he is supposedly reviewing or when he expects to be done.

“Why in the world would the Park Service Director swoop down at the last minute to veto a common-sense conservation measure that a park had spent significant taxpayer dollars to implement?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that NPS Director Jon Jarvis often speaks about climate change and how national parks need to “teach us how we relate to the natural world.” “In this agency, when a matter goes under ‘director’s review’ it never reemerges – in other words, the bottle ban is likely dead.”

After hearing from NPS employees that a major gift from Coca Cola to the National Park Foundation (the donation-receiving arm of NPS chaired by Jarvis) was made contingent on lifting the Grand Canyon bottle ban, PEER filed formal requests with both Jarvis and the National Park Foundation this past summer for relevant records.  Today, PEER filed a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against both for failing to produce a single document explaining the bottle ban reversal or conditions on Coca Cola contributions.

“It would be outrageous if corporate contributions are influencing national park management decisions,” stated Ruch, noting that Jarvis has called for creation of a billion dollar endowment drawn largely from corporate donors. “As the Park Service expands its dependence on corporate largesse, we need to make doubly sure that no strings that come attached.  The circumstances of these gifts and how they are used should be on the public record.”

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