California has long been our nation’s leader in environmental stewardship. But in its narrow focus to push for new environmental policies, the state legislature is now proposing regulations that would come at the expense of access to safe, clean drinking water — particularly for California’s most disadvantaged communities.
Lawmakers must slow down and consider how these poorly designed policies could put the health of millions of Californians at risk.
AB 792, introduced by Assembly Member Phil Ting, would increase the required amount of recycled plastic in bottles sold throughout the state. While the goals of this bill to improve sustainability are well-intentioned, its unintended consequences could produce a dangerous ripple effect that creates barriers for those who need reliable access to water the most.
The state recently estimated that 1 million Californians currently lack access to safe drinking water. And these access issues often fall hardest on our state’s Black and Hispanic communities. Researchers recently found that Latino populations, for example, were more than six times likelier than whites to live in zip codes with contaminated water, while black families were more than five times likelier than white families. In these communities, bottled water is an important resource.
If state lawmakers push forward with policies that make bottled water more expensive, many consumers instead may choose sugar-sweetened beverages. For instance, after the University of Vermont banned bottled water in 2013, a study found that students increasingly opted for less-healthy sugary beverages like soda and juice.
Minority families who lack clean drinking water at home often end up being particularly impacted when bottled water becomes less accessible. Areas that have been severely affected by water contamination are often home to large Black and Latino communities, and their resulting distrust of tap water already makes it more likely they will turn to sugary drinks. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, sugar-sweetened beverages now contribute the highest proportion of total daily calories for black men.
And this comes as our state’s Black and Latino communities are already dealing with alarmingly high rates of obesity and related chronic conditions. Drinking more of these sugary beverages can, along with poor diet and exercise, be a major driver of diabetes — and nearly one-in-four Black or Latino adults in California are already suffering from diabetes. Creating new barriers to accessing clean water would only make these problems worse.
Government agencies have begun to realize that overly broad bans on bottled water are not the answer to achieving sustainability goals. In August 2017, the National Park Service reversed course on a policy that encouraged national parks to ban sales of plastic water bottles, explaining that the ban removed “the healthiest beverage choice” while still allowing sales of sugar-sweetened drinks. California lawmakers ought to take a step back and consider how their proposed legislation would create the same effects.
Californians deserve policies that help meet environmental goals without coming at the expense of their health. Instead of haphazardly cutting off access to clean water for our state’s most vulnerable communities, lawmakers should focus on ways we can take steps toward achieving sustainable drinking water solutions all Californians.
Earl “Skip” Cooper II is President/CEO The Black Business Association (BBA), headquartered in Los Angeles, is the oldest active ethnic business organization in the State of California.