US Court Rules Nestle’s Claim Of Bottled Water Being ‘Essential Public Service’ Is Flawed

Nestle’s commercial water-bottling operation is “not an essential public service” or a public water supply, ruled second-highest court of Michigan, United States. Analysts see this as a blow for the company’s Ice Mountain water brand.

On the other hand, for Osceola township, a small mid-Michigan town, this verdict is a victory. The town had prevented the multinational from construction of a pumping station violating the zoning laws of the town. This case can also disrupt the plan of Nestle to privatize water services all across the United States.

However if those plans of the company are to be materialized, then the services that the company wants to offer as a private entity need to be recognized as an essential public service.

Any claim made by the Swiss multinational of it being a public water utility “is ludicrous”, said the Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson, who has fought Nestlé in court previously but was not a part of this case by the Osceola township.

“What this lays bare is the extent to which private water marketers like Nestlé, and others like them, go [in] their attempts to privatize sovereign public water, public water services, and the land and communities they impact,” Olson said.

Analysts also said that this verdict of the court could prompt the state environmental regulators to review earlier permits given to Nestle to pump water in Michigan.

The root of the case lies in an effort of Nestle to increase the quantity of water it pumps out of controversial wellhead in nearby Evart. The company wanted to increase the water drawn to 400 gallons per minute from about 250 gallons per minute. And to transport that additional water, the company needed to construct the pump in a children’s campground in Osceola township.

That plan of the company was rejected by the township in 2017 because it violated its zoning laws. That Nestle to file the case. A verdict passed by a lower court in late 2017 declared water to be essential for life and therefore bottling of water was also considered to be an “essential public service” because it satisfied a demand. That trumped Osceola township’s zoning laws.

That decision was reversed by a three-judge panel in the appellate court.

While acknowledging that water was “essential to life”, the appellate judges declared that one the court also had to consider the context in which water was sold. It is unessential to market bottled water in an area where there is availability of tap water, the court said.

“The circuit court’s conclusion that [Nestlé’s] commercial water bottling operation is an ‘essential public service’ is clearly erroneous,” the judges wrote. “Other than in areas with no other source of water, bottled water is not essential.”

Electrical substations, sewage facilities or other similar structures were among the infrastructure that provides essential public services, the court noted. The court also ruled that the pumping station of Nestle did not fit into the category of infrastructure that provides essential public services.

Nestle’s argument that the company represented a “public water supply” was also disagreed by the judges. They said state law “unambiguously” implies public water supplies are “conveyed to a site through pipes” while nonessential water is provided in bottles.

“We conclude that [Nestlé’s] proposed booster-pump facility is not a ‘public water supply’ under [Michigan law],” the court wrote.

(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)

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