The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

“I Am Sorry, This is Silly”

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On Wednesday, December 2, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on a draft bill entitled the “National Park Service Centennial Act.” The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the legislation, which would establish a fund in the Treasury to finance signature projects and programs for the National Park System’s (NPS) 100th anniversary in 2016. However, a different NPS-related issue, which has grabbed the attention of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), was brought up during the hearing by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.).

For the past few weeks, CAGW has been exposing and criticizing the NPS’s ban on the sale of bottled water, in both the November 2015 Waste Watcher and a December 2, 2015 column in The Hill.

In December 2011, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a policy memorandum regarding the “recycling and reduction of disposable bottles in parks.” The policy’s supposed purpose is an environmental one of reducing litter, waste disposal, and energy use. One would think this memorandum meant all beverages sold in disposable bottles would be banned, but the NPS is only banning the sale of bottled water; not sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices, or other beverages that may be sold in plastic containers, aluminum cans, or glass bottles. The ban is not mandatory but 18 of the parks, including some of the largest and most well-known such as Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion, have banned the sale of bottled water.

This means visitors to these parks that may not be aware of the ban either have to buy reusable bottles (which could add up to a hefty sum for a large family), and utilize the park’s water filling stations, or purchase other beverages, such as soda, juice, or energy drinks.

There is no NPS data on whether the ban has done anything to cut down on trash. More than likely, based on a study by University of Vermont Professor of Nutrition Rachel Johnson, people are now drinking less healthy drinks at the parks and are bringing in their own bottled water, while not cutting down on waste at all.

Perhaps CAGW President Tom Schatz’s Hill op-ed had an impact, as it was published early in the morning of December 2, just hours before the hearing. At the hearing, Chairman McClintock told NPS Director Jarvis that there are a “lot of complaints” about the ban on bottled water sales. He asked for justification for the ban on bottled water sales but no other beverages, and strongly advised Jarvis “to do something about that.” Chairman Bishop told Director Jarvis: “don’t overlook” McClintock’s request. Bishop also mentioned that banning bottled water sales while allowing the sale of “Gatorade, and coke cans and all the other stuff [in the parks] does not make a whole lot of sense and it does not deem well for what we are looking at in the future, that’s an issue you got to look at … I am sorry, this is silly.” (See the chairmen speak at the hearing at 34:00 and 1:35:30 respectively.)

Representative Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) successfully offered an amendment to the House version of the fiscal year 2016 Department of the Interior Appropriations Act that would prevent the NPS from using any funds to support the bottled water policy. The Senate version of the appropriations bill does not contain a similar provision, so it remains to be seen whether the Rothfus amendment makes it through the entire legislative process.

Regardless, Chairmen Bishop’s and McClintock’s strong rebukes are telling the NPS not to wait for any legislation. The NPS adopted this “silly” policy and they can and should chuck it themselves.

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