The National Park Service has ended a six-year-old ban on the sale of bottled water in some of its units, just weeks after a lawyer and lobbyist whose firm represented one of the country's largest producers of bottled water was confirmed as deputy interior secretary.
The voluntary ban was put in place in 2011, in response to complaints that the bottles were clogging national parks up with litter. While only 23 of the park service's 417 units opted in, those that did included visitor magnets like Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon.
When the ban was first instituted, Grand Canyon staff estimated that getting rid of the sale of bottled water could eliminate "up to 20% of the park's overall waste stream." After putting its own ban in place, Zion National Park said that it had removed the annual equivalent of about 60,000 water bottles, or 5,000 pounds of plastic, from landfills.
The revocation of the ban is effective immediately, the NPS said.
"It really doesn’t make a lot of sense," said David Nimkin, Southwest Senior Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "As our national parks are trying to find ways to manage these extraordinary resources more efficiently and to find ways for visitors to take a more personal responsibility for their own safety and well-being, reinforcing a process to promote keeping well hydrated and reducing the waste stream from double digit visitor growth each year seems like a wonderful solution."
In a press release, Jill Culora, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association, praised the decision, saying it "[recognized] the importance of making safe, healthy, convenient bottled water available to the millions of people from around the world who want to stay well-hydrated while visiting national parks."
The change in policy comes less than a month after the Senate confirmed former lobbyist David Bernhardt, whose firm provided legal representation to bottled-water producer Nestlé Waters, as deputy interior secretary. Bernhardt previously led President Trump's transition team for the Interior Department.
In a statement, Nestlé Waters called allegations that the company had influenced the NPS to rescind its ban "categorically false" and denied that anyone in its general counsel's office had ever had contact with Bernhardt himself.
During his confirmation hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called Bernhardt a "walking conflict of interest" and said that he intended to "be a big business yes-man for the Trump administration's extreme disregard for our environment and the human lives that are affected."
Bernhardt was confirmed in a 53-43 vote.