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Nestle manager joins board that can rewrite environmental laws in Maine. Could this happen in Mich.?

bottle of water
Wilson Hui
Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Legislature is considering three bills that would change how the state determines environmental rules. One of the bills would create an environmental rules committee that could reject or change any rule the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issues.

Critics say this opens the door to political appointees from the private sector, including some of the very industries that might be resisting environmental regulation.

That claim isn’t much of a stretch. It’s already happening in Maine.

Maine Governor Paul LePage chose an official from Nestle Waters to be a member of the board that has the power to rewrite Maine’s environmental rules.

Colin Woodard of The Portland Press Herald has been reporting on this issue, and he joined Stateside to talk about how it has affected his state.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below:

On Nestle’s reputation in Maine

Many Michiganders are concerned about the amount of water taken by Nestle. Woodard says the company has been controversial in Maine, as well.

“Under Maine law, if you own land, you essentially own the water resources under it. The law doesn’t really recognize that pumping water from your land might be affecting your neighbors.

"But the focus of the criticism has actually been on arrangements they’ve made in other towns with local water utilities.... They have this sort of long legacy of having taken a town’s municipal water supplies, and then of course are bottling it and selling it at a significant upcharge. Which makes some uncomfortable, while others argue, ‘Oh, it brings jobs and it’s a clean resource’ and the like. But it has drawn a lot of skepticism and concern, particularly given how large Nestle is overall.”

On why LePage put a Nestle official on the state’s environmental board

“He hasn’t said directly. In his letter, he said that he thought that this person would make an excellent contribution to the board. In our state, the body’s called the Board of Environmental Protection, and it was originally set up as sort of a way for there to be public or citizen oversight over dramatic decisions of the [Department of Environmental Protection]. Substantive, environmental rules changes for approval of a huge project that would have a regional effect.

But this is the first time that an appointee to the BEP has drawn a lot of heat, I think because a lot of the other people appointed to this body are, you know, they own small businesses that might potentially have small conflicts of interest … and LePage has appointed a fellow named Mark DuBois, who’s a manager here, but who’s also, in effect, the public face of Nestle Waters in the state…. So the concern is because he’s an employee of this large company, he will of course be acting in that company’s interest, and also have access to a lot of things that the BEP looks at regularly that might also be of interest to the company he works for.”

On Nestle’s relationship with Maine lawmakers

“It’s hard to prove anything, but Nestle Waters gives extensively to the leadership political action committees of many legislators on both sides of the aisle, and that would seem to give them an ear and a lot of places. And they also have bottling plants and such around and pump water in seven different towns. And so they give philanthropically at local levels, and in a state of only 1.3 million people, it doesn’t take a lot of expenditure to have a lot of people feel indebted or happy towards you. So exactly how that plays out in sort of quid pro quo, or drawing direct lines is always hard to say, but they certainly are involved in cultivating a good image and donating to people or ... leaders in legislature for both parties.”

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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