A coalition of bottled water companies—including Nestle Waters, which owns Poland Spring, and Keeper Springs, a smaller company owned by environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—filed a lawsuit yesterday to challenge a new state law that would require bottled water companies to charge a 5 cent deposit fee. The complaint argues that the law violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause because it exempts drinks with sugar added, such as competitors like Glacéau, makers of Vitamin Water. Lawyers also say the deposit would violate the Constitution’s interstate commerce protections the law because it could be interpreted as prohibiting companies from selling the New York-labeled bottles in other states.
In speaking to the Times, Kennedy, who works with Riverkeeper, argued that "the sugar lobby, and its indentured servants in the Legislature," created the law to go after bottled water. "There is no rational basis for penalizing water. It means that if I add a little sugar to my water, I don’t have to pay my redemption fee." Lawmakers estimate the deposit law would bring in some $115 million in unclaimed deposits annually, and Riverkeeper happens to be a big supporter for expanding the deposit law to bottled water, which seems a little awkward for Kennedy.
Lawyers for the International Bottled Water Association argue that the planned June 1st start date, which involves imprinting a New York State bar code on bottles, is "physically impossible." (Governor Paterson's office declined to comment, but the Times reports the deadline may be moved back.) As for Nestlé Waters, their CEO is really worried about the law's impact on the community, because it "hurts community-based recycling efforts by removing a critical revenue source from curbside recycling." And the company's spokesman also says the sports drink exemption is very suspicious: "I think the biggest untold story is who was in the room when that was dreamed up."