Friday, June 20, 2008

Wisely using the state's resources

For nearly two centuries, Maine’s economic well-being has been closely tied to our state’s natural resources. While globalization, environmental standards, and other factors have introduced a noticable shift over the past decade, natural resources still dominate a considerable portion of our dialogue in the Pine Tree State.

While the Governor has recognized Maine’s uniqueness as a state, and has created a council to preserve elements of place, dovetailing with the Brooking’s study that was released last year, there continues to exist tension, tied to the state’s unique resources, and who owns the rights to these. This is very apparent when the subject runs to water.

During the gubernatorial campaign, I thought Pat LaMarche spoke eloquently about some of these issues, and why it was important for Mainers to pay close attention to preserving those things that made us unique as a state. Her point was that because we've been vigilant in protecting our natural environment, and fostering elements of environmental quality, that resources that benefit from Maine's pristine places, like water, are attractive to saavy marketers, eager to exploit elements of our unique place, for their own economic gain.

The website has excerpted a portion of Elizabeth Royte’s book, Bottlemania: How Bottle Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It, where she touches on this issue, and one of the state’s better known exports, Poland Spring Water.

From the article, Royte writes,

In 2003, operatives for the Earth Liberation Front placed four incendiary devices inside a pump station in Michigan that supplied water to a Nestlé bottling plant. The devices failed to ignite, but ELF made its point: The substation was "stealing water," the group stated in a communique. Clean water, it continued, "is one of the most fundamental necessities, and no one can be allowed to privatize it, commodify it, and try and sell it back to us." Is that what's happening at the Poland Spring plant in the town of Hollis?

I'd come up here to see how the water gets out of the famous Maine woods and into the skinny bottles with the green labels. They are ubiquitous where I live. You can't walk a block in
New York City without seeing a bottle in someone's hand, their baby stroller, or bike cage, spilling from the corner litter baskets or crushed flat and gray, ratlike, in the gutters. Nationwide, we discard 30-40 billion of these containers a year. The bottles, and the trucks that deliver them, are haunting me.

Poland Spring is the best-selling spring water in the nation, even in a city with some of the best tap water in the world. Everyone is drinking the stuff, and other waters like it. In the West, it's Arrowhead and Calistoga; in the South Central region, Ozarka; in the Midwest, Ice Mountain; in the mid-Atlantic, Deer Park; and in the Southeast, Zephyrhills--all owned by Nestlé, a company with estimated profits of $7.46 billion in 2006. Pepsi and Coke are bottling water too, and making billions.

Why this turn against the tap? And how had we gotten to the point where activists are sneaking bombs into pump houses--infrastructure devoted not to oil, but water?

Royte spent time in Fryburg, at Poland Spring’s bottling plant, speaking with representatives about the struggles and opposition they’ve faced, harvesting water for profit in Maine. Royte takes the position that the company’s efforts “contributes nothing to the town's long-term economic welfare.”

Royte details an age-old dilemma for resource-rich states like Maine. While it would be naïve, and even shortsighted to think that companies wouldn’t try to find a way to profit from our resources, it’s important that Mainers drive a hard bargain, and make sure that economic benefits extend to the people of Maine, and their own economic prosperity, rather than the prosperity of those occupying plush leather chairs in corporate suites.

To read the entire post, you can access it here.

You can read a review of Royte’s book here.

1 comment:

MessengerTodd said...

Here's the latest on Michigan. More giveaways to Nestle.