- - Sunday, August 20, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Obama administration decreed six years ago that the national parks could sell soda pop but not water to visitors seeking to slake their thirst on trails through the splendor of nature. Sugar water yes, plain water no.

But last week the Trump administration reversed a policy adopted at the behest of environmental extremists, who seem determined to make sure no one in America enjoys himself at the expense of snail darters, Armenian tadpoles and passionate environmentalist grannies in tennis shoes.

The ban on water puzzled critics, who observed that it didn’t do away as well with sales of bottled sugary drinks at the parks’ restaurants and concession stands since the advertised aim of the prohibition was to reduce the litter of recyclable plastic bottles. Soda pop is one of the favorite targets of the food police who cast such a high-profile shadow over the Obama administration. If preserving health and enabling everyone to live to be a hundred is the goal it would have made more sense to purge Pepsi, ditch Dr Pepper and rout Barq’s root beer.

Indeed, the “new” National Park Service observed that Mr. Obama’s ban had “removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks.”

The bottled-water industry was happy, no surprise, to echo the park service with a bit of marketing language, proclaiming that the reversal was a recognition of “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.”

Bottled water is on a roll. It overtook soda pop as the No. 1 drink in the United States last year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., a research and consulting firm. Americans drank an average of 39.3 gallons of bottled water in 2016 and 38.5 gallons of carbonated soft drinks. A lot of the bottled water, truth to tell, is tap water with a frothy label.

The rationale for the bottled-water ban in the national parks was set out in a December 2010 memorandum from a bureaucracy called Sustainable Operations and Climate Change branch of the Park Service’s Facility Management Division. (Try gargling with that mouthful.)

“Americans discard 50 billion plastic water bottles each year,” the memo writers said. ” National parks, as tourist destinations, use precious taxpayer dollars to manage the burden of discarded plastic water bottles.” The 50-billion-bottle figure is somewhat suspect, with the other sources putting the figure at 50 billion worldwide, and 30 billion the United States. Even 30 billion is an enormous number, of course, but only a minuscule fraction of the bottles are discarded at national parks.

Only 23 of the country’s 417 national parks had instituted the bottled-water ban. The slow rollout was likely owing to the time and expense of installing water fountains needed to quench the thirst of visitors in the absence of commercially bottled water.

The reversal of the ban might be a blow for consumer choice, which in theory liberals (or “progressives” in the currently preferred word) should applaud. Many water consumers drink bottled water to avoid the chemical cocktail of chlorine and fluoride poured into municipal tap water, willing to pay a dollar or more for a drink of water that in some brands comes out of the kitchen tap, and for virtually nothing. The markup on bottled water is enormous, the parks have lost considerable revenue over the past six years — far more than the cost of managing the discarding of plastic water bottles. Deploying recycling bins is far less costly than the plumbing required to put in water fountains throughout more than 400 national parks. So nearly everybody’s a winner. Who wouldn’t drink to that?

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