Efforts to showcase the National Park Service's commitment to a green environment were partially derailed when Coca Cola raised concerns over plans to ban disposable water bottles at Grand Canyon National Park with Park Service Chief Jon Jarvis, who blocked the ban.
Coca Cola officials approached both the agency directly and the National Park Foundation with its concerns, according to a report in the New York Times. Coca Cola is a major player in bottled water through its Dasani brand.
Park Service spokesman David Barna told the Times that Mr. Jarvis made the “decision to put it on hold until we can get more information.”
"Reducing and eliminating disposable plastic bottles is one element of our green plan," Mr. Barna added. "This is a process, and we are at the beginning of it.”
In a bid to see if any undue influence was wielded, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today filed a lawsuit to obtain Park Service correspondence related to the matter.
"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 Director 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," the PEER official said.
Reportedly among the director's concerns was how a ban would impact the safety of visitors to dry, arid Southwest parks such as Grand Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands.
The bottle ban had been in the works for some time. In anticipation of it, Grand Canyon crews early in 2011 installed nine free water supply stations throughout the park at a cost of more than $300,000, according to PEER calculations. Six were installed on the South Rim, three on the North Rim.
In addition to the NPS filling stations, Delaware North Companies’ Desert View and Canyon Village Marketplaces also installed their own in-store, water bottle filling stations. The new filling stations augment the water already available from sinks and water fountains in buildings and facilities throughout the park.
Some existing water fountains were also being equipped with bottle filling spigots. All of the water available at sinks, faucets, water fountains and filling stations can be used to fill bottles free of charge and is pure Grand Canyon spring water from the park’s “approved public water supply,” located at Roaring Springs on the North Rim.
The filling stations were part of a green initiative being implemented to encourage park visitors and residents to think about the environmental impacts of the choices they make every day, starting with the water they drink.
“The amount of litter associated with disposable water bottles has been increasing along park trails and walkways. It’s one of the major contributors of trash below the rim, and it’s currently estimated that disposable water bottles make up as much as 30 percent of the park’s solid waste stream," Tim Jarrell, the park's chief of facilities management, said last March.
Park concessioners, retailers, and cooperating association bookstores (Xanterra South Rim, LLC, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts at Grand Canyon, Inc., Forever Resorts, L.L.C., and the Grand Canyon Association) also said they would sell reusable water bottles at a variety of price points in their facilities throughout the park.
According to the Times' story, the National Park Foundation's chief executive officer, Neil Mulholland, confirmed that Coke officials had approached him with concerns about the bottle ban, but did not threaten to withhold its donations to the foundation if nothing was done.
“There was not an overt statement made to me that they objected to the ban,” Mr. Mulholland told the newspaper. “There was never anything inferred by Coke that if this ban happens, we’re losing their support.”
PEER officials, however, questioned that position, saying a major gift from Coke was contingent on the ban being lifted.
“It would be outrageous if corporate contributions are influencing national park management decisions,” stated Mr. Ruch, noting that Director 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.”
Coca Cola officials, meanwhile, told the Times bans are never right, that those moves "don't necessarily address the problem."