April 5, 2011

Fate of ‘Take Back the Tap’ Unclear

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A Student Assembly resolution passed last fall to phase out bottled water sales is, according to various sources, either dead in the water or moving ahead as planned.Members of “Take Back the Tap,” an organization that co-sponsored the resolution to reduce the environmental and economic impact of bottled water usage on campus, disputed claims that the resolution was not moving forward.

“I think calling it dead is very inaccurate,” Kristen Loria ’11 said. “The fact that key players from each body of the administration are working with us is a huge step forward, and it’s made things a lot easier in terms of actually getting things done.”

Skorton officially responded to Res. 35 on Dec. 19 with a letter to the S.A.

“We need to provide critical information to those consumers, make alternatives (including refillable bottles and mugs) available and be sure that our recycling program remains robust. I like your suggestion that we find ways to track our progress in the reduction of consumption of bottle water on campus,” he wrote.

Skorton, however, did not call for the immediate cessation of bottled water sales. Instead, he said that he would ask the University’s Sustainable Campus Committee to work with Cornell Dining and the S.A. Dining and Environmental committees to “develop an action plan.”

Eliminating bottled water on campus would also require Cornell to adjust its infrastructure, Skorton added. He said that any infrastructure changes necessitated by the proposal would also need to be approved by Cornell’s Capital Planning Group and Capital Financing and Priorities Group.

“This is a very complex issue . . . [which] President Skorton acknowledged in his letter, but he also called for the formation of a task force. We’ve met four times already to discuss this issue and it is actively moving forward,” said Loria, who added she is optimistic about the fate of the proposal.

K.C. Alvey ’12 and Loria said the taskforce, a subcommittee of the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee, is working on infrastructure issues and bottled water “educational efforts.”

Loria said that the taskforce is still in the planning stage but is actively working with members of relevant groups at Cornell, including Cornell Dining.

Cornell’s water and wastewater manager and its director of maintenance management are also working with the taskforce to look into “a pilot project for water filling stations in key locations,” she said.

Student Assembly Representative Andrew Brokman ’11, who is chairman of the S.A.’s environmental committee and one of the resolution’s sponsors, said he was disappointed with Skorton’s response to the resolution.

“Our response from the administration was as complex as the issue,” Brokman said, calling Skorton’s plan to send Res. 35 through multiple committees “thoughtful” but “convoluted.”

“When I read the response, I thought, ‘great, he’s going to send us off to a bunch of people,’” Brokman said. “As one of the people who wrote the original resolution, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t hit on the specifics of the plan … the response read more like a dead end.”

S.A. Executive Vice President Ray Mensah ’11, who voted against Res. 35, said the proposal would not be implemented in the foreseeable future.

“Quite frankly, I don’t see it being implemented,” he said, adding, “I hope it remains dead.”

Although Mensah said he supported the general idea of sustainability, he said it had “to make sense economically” and not impinge on student choice.

“I do have a problem as well with options being taken away,” Mensah said. “That’s not to say we can’t make moves towards being more sustainable, but I think we can go about in different ways than basically taking options away from individuals.”

Although she supports the proposal, Loria added that Cornell Dining had said phasing out bottled water sales “may translate directly into higher meal plan prices, as they would have income to make up.”

However, Loria and Alvey said that Cornell Maintenance Management, which would install new water infrastructure, would likely not pass on the costs to students.

“The only people who have the power to most directly to affect what students pay is [Cornell] Dining,” Loria said.

Original Author: Byron Kittle