As if Mainers needed evidence their state government prefers corporate interests over the will of the people, Governor Paul LePage horrified residents already infuriated over the company’s Poland Spring bottling operations by nominating none other than Nestlé Natural Resource Manager Mark Dubois — deemed “Nestlé Waters’ public face in Maine” by local media — for a spot on Maine’s Environmental Protection Board, which the Republican-held legislature subsequently confirmed on January 25.
To be clear, a Nestlé corporate insider now holds a position on the Maine Environmental Protection Board — a position albeit superficially believed to require acting in protection of the environment — if not implicitly demanding action as a gatekeeper to prohibit corporate greed from running roughshod over delicate ecological systems.
But the conflicts of interest resulting from the appointment should have immediately disqualified a company representative from such a position of power, critics vehemently contend, as the Sun Journal notes the position Dubois now occupies writes “major substantive rules, judges major permit applications of statewide significance and acts as an appeals court for emergency orders issued by the commissioner […]
“Critics of Dubois’ employer — which has been embroiled in high-profile controversies over water pumping deals in Fryeburg and Rumford in recent years — denounced his nomination to the seven-member Board of Environmental Protection, which also is charged with making recommendations on amending the state’s environmental laws.”
“The depth and scope of Nestle’s interest and potential conflicts just doesn’t compare with any of the other individuals serving on the board. This is them stacking the deck,” Fryeburg activist Nickie Sekera flatly asserted of the disputatious move. “This gives them another level and scope of influence.”
In Maine, Nestlé needs all the influence and power it can muster, considering the ferocious, resident-led movements sprouting across the state wherever the corporation withdraws and bottles water. And, judging by Dubois’ glowing approval from politicians who insist his expertise derived in company experience innately qualifies him for the board of seven civilians appointed by LePage, it seems the company many Mainers would prefer leave Maine now enjoys precisely that.
“If there’s a company that’s interested in the cleanest water possible, it’s this one,” Maine House Representative Bob Duchesne, mirroring others, stated.
However, it isn’t as if Nestlé maintains a track record of environmental stewardship, wise decisions for preserving vital ecosystems, or even honesty — whether through questionable business practices, or in dishonest, misleading, and outright mendacious labeling — company leadership acts as bullies against local populations who resist its plans, in Maine and throughout the United States.
In fact, August saw the filing of a class action lawsuit against Nestlé — in Maine, concerning the Poland Spring brand — as claimants assert the company is not only pawning off simple groundwater as actual water from a spring, but that the groundwater bottled is drawn from a source contaminated by waste and garbage dump sites.
As the Bangor Daily News reported August 17, 2017,
“For instance, the suit claims that the company’s wells in Poland, Maine, have never been scientifically proven to be connected to a spring and draw in surface water, which cannot legally be called spring water. It further alleges that the company has put water from some of these wells through a purification process that disqualifies it as spring water under federal regulations.
“The suit makes similar claims about Poland Spring water sources in Hollis, Fryeburg, Denmark, Dallas Plantation, Pierce Pond Township and Kingfield.”
According to the lawsuit, which also plainly argues “not one drop” of Poland Spring bottled water comes from an actual spring, “To consumers, ‘spring water’ from a naturally occurring spring signifies purity and high quality and commands a premium price compared to Defendant’s non-spring drinking water products or filtered tap water. To illicitly capture that premium, Defendant, since it began selling the Poland Spring brand in 1993, has bottled common groundwater and illegally mislabeled it as ‘100% Natural Spring Water.’”
Poland Spring and parent company, Nestlé, states the lawsuit, are committing “colossal fraud.”
These rather pertinent details showcasing the company’s alleged if brazen defiance of environmental and corporate ethics were apparently not sufficiently troublesome for Maine’s elected politicians who voted by a slim 18 to 15 margin to affirm Dubois’ seat on the Environmental Protection Board — even as they touted presumed qualifications a Nestlé executive would bring to the table.
But the extenuating dubious circumstances don’t even end there.
“Nestle Waters triggered a conflict-of-interest nightmare for the state’s Public Utilities Commission in 2013-14, when all three commissioners and the state’s public advocate were forced to recuse themselves from a case involving the approval of a long-term contract between the company and Fryeburg’s family-controlled water utility at rates critics said were too low,” the Press Herald reported January 24, just prior to Dubois’ confirmation.
“All four officials had prior ties to the company, with two having actually helped create the water giant’s relationship with the water utility while attorneys at the Portland firm of Pierce Atwood. Legislators had to write a new law to provide a mechanism to allow alternate commissioners to step in and adjudicate the case.”
Whether known violations of strict labeling laws, contentiously myopic water drawing operations, or arrogance of attitude equivalent to a grade school bully, Nestlé isn’t winning in friends in Maine anytime soon — except, perhaps, among the cadre of politicians whose fealty to corporate whimsy amounts to naked, categorical favoritism of profits over the people.
Image: Max Pixel/Public Domain.