Does a massive multinational bottled water corporation need any more power over environmental policy in Maine? The governor sure thinks so.
Many of the most contentious battles over environmental protection in Maine have been about protecting the state’s precious groundwater. And one massive company’s presence has generated protests, controversy, and even lawsuits: Nestlé, and its subsidiary Poland Spring.
So, it was shocking—but not surprising—to see who Maine Governor Paul LePage nominated for a seat on the state’s Environmental Protection Board: None other than Nestlé Natural Resource Manager Mark Dubois, who one state newspaper called “Nestlé Waters’ public face in Maine.”
This astonishing move to give Nestlé even more power over state environmental policy generated a wave of opposition. Nestlé’s water profiteering is directly linked to a range of decisions that local and state officials must make, from creating policies around water withdrawals to setting quality standards and approving land use permits.
The Environmental Protection Board plays a key role, evaluating the Department of Environmental Protection’s rules and judging some permit applications. Granting Nestlé a seat at the table on such matters is simply unacceptable. As local Fryeburg activist Nickie Sekera put it, “This is them stacking the deck. This gives them another level and scope of influence.”
Nestlé already has a long track record of flexing its political and financial muscle to get what it wants in Maine—most notably by getting state regulatory approval for a long-term deal to pump out hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day in Fryeburg.
Dubois, for his part, assured lawmakers and state residents that there would be no conflicts of interest; he would merely recuse himself from matters involve Poland Spring, and any other discussions about water withdrawals. But this pledge only reveals the absurdity of the nomination. What is the point of having a member of the Environmental Protection Board who cannot fully participate in so many important discussions?
In an unfortunate sign of the power the company has in state politics, the Dubois nomination was approved. Given its total size and its considerable lobbying muscle, Nestlé already has too much power over political decisions in Maine. And now, the company has even more.
There’s still some trouble lurking for Nestlé, though. Two class action lawsuits—one filed in Maine-- allege that the company’s Poland Springs brand is a “colossal fraud,” since much of the water is ordinary groundwater from Maine. And the community resistance to this kind of wasteful water profiteering continues to grow, in Maine and elsewhere.