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Updated: McDonnell denies lifting state ban on bottled water at the behest of the industry

Anita Kumar

Update, 4:20 p.m.: McDonnell spokeswoman Stacey Johnson denied the allegations by Corporate Accountability International.

The governor's "decision to reverse a ban on bottled water gives agencies the flexibility to meet their needs in this tough budget cycle in the most practical and cost-effective manner possible,'' Johnson said. "It also eliminates a mandate that targets an important job-creating Virginia industry and the tax revenue to the commonwealth that the industry provides."

Johnson said the same executive order that eliminated the ban also directed that state agencies recycle, and provide containers so that their employees can recycle. "We trust and expect that state agencies and employees will be responsible stewards of the environment by, among other things, recycling the plastic water bottles they may use," she said.

Original post: Gov. Bob McDonnell's decision to reverse his predecessor's ban on the state's purchase of individual-sized bottled water is coming under fire from those who claim that he might have made the decision at the request of his friends in the industry.

Former Republican delegate Chris Saxman, board member of the International Bottled Water Association and employee of Shenandoah Valley Water Co., a major water bottler in Virginia, has served as an education adviser to McDonnell.

Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based nonprofit organization which promotes strong public water systems, among other issues, alleges that Saxman's company is the single largest recipient of state money spent on bottled water, including more than $101,000 in fiscal 2009.

"McDonnell ran on a campaign platform that promised common-sense steps to curb state spending and protect the environment,'' said Leslie Samuelrich, chief of staff at Corporate Accountability International. "His actions today seem to suggest he is more interested in protecting cushy state contracts for the bottled water industry than protecting the environment or prioritizing state funding for vital public services."

But Saxman said Tuesday that his company primarily sells five-gallon containers of water, not individual water bottles. He also said that he did not speak to McDonnell or anyone in his administration about the decision. "That's completely inaccurate,'' he said. "I didn't talk to anyone in this administration. It would be inappropriate.''

Former governor Tim Kaine (D) banned the water bottles, except in emergencies or health reasons, as part of an overall conservation plan.

Virginia was among a handful of states, including Illinois, New York and Colorado, to cut bottled water from their budget. Corporate Accountability, which receives its funding from individuals and foundations, was working those states.

In fiscal 2009, the state spent at least $158,000 on bottled water. The following year, the state spent about $126,000.

McDonnell has convened a commission to study ways to cut state spending, including closing some of the state's 130 agencies, putting more forms online, eliminating annual reports and selling the state's 332 liquor stores.

Stacey Johnson, a McDonnell spokeswoman, did not immediately return a call for comment.

By Anita Kumar  |  July 13, 2010; 4:48 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Robert F. McDonnell , Timothy M. Kaine  
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Jobs For Bob's Friends or Friends of Bob's Jobs?

Posted by: Please_Fix_VAs_Roads | July 13, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

This is an unfortunate step backwards for the Commonwealth of Virgina. It's Governor McDonnell's responsibility to protect our public water systems, not to spend our tax dollars on such a wasteful product. I'd rather have my tax dollars spent on protecting this vital resource.

Posted by: nina358 | July 13, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Just another example of how McDonnell is beholden to his givers at the expense of the state treasury and the environment. Of course, he is not as crazy as his AG, who has lost his mind, if he ever had one.

Posted by: kinsman_bob | July 13, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

McDonnell is clearly prioritizing his political position at the expense of state agencies that provide essential services to the people of Virginia. Rather than "trusting" state employees to recycle, he should be providing the leadership to stop the wasteful practice of buying bottled water. No amount of recycling can eliminate the public spending going to private water companies or the environmental costs of bottled water.

Posted by: frejajos | July 13, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh get a grip people. The bulk of the purchases outlawed by Kaine were for state organized/sponsored meetings. Boards, commissions, workgroups, etc. Water in plastic bottles was outlawed by Kaine, soda was not. This merely corrects that inconsistency.

Posted by: mrfletcher | July 13, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

as someone who cares about both my health and the environment, if i was at a conference or other state function (i might go to one or two education department events per year) where a snack or lunch was provided, i'd like to see water as an option alongside soda. Under Kaine, this wouldn't have been possible. I don't mind recycling (i do it often), but give me something other than nasty tasting city tap water or bacteria-infested water fountains.
Banning bottled water is silly.

Posted by: joecrack776 | July 13, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

As a moderate, I have to agree with McDonnell on this one. If you're going to ban bottled water, you need to ban all plastic bottles as well. Now, if they had a recycling bin in state offices that actually did recycling (instead of throwing them in the dumpster with the rest of the trash) then that would be perfectly fine by me.

Posted by: RojoJohnson | July 14, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

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