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Florida Debates Water Tax On Bottlers

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Florida Debates Water Tax On Bottlers

Florida Debates Water Tax On Bottlers

Florida Debates Water Tax On Bottlers

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Each day more than five million gallons of spring water is bottled in Florida, and companies pay almost nothing for local water permits. Florida is considering joining other states that have imposed "severance fees" on commercially bottled spring water. It would charge six cents for every gallon taken from springs or aquifers.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Much of the bottled water that we drink comes from springs and aquifers in Florida. Water companies pay tiny one-time fees to pump it out. Now state officials want them to pay tax for every gallon they take. A new proposal has water bottlers boiling. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: Each day more than five million gallons are removed from Florida water sources and sold under a variety of names: Dasani, Deer Park, Zephyrhills, Aquafina. There are at least 22 bottled water companies in Florida. For the right to bottle tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of gallons each day, the companies pay next to nothing. A one-time water use permit may run a couple hundred dollars. The administration of Florida Governor Charlie Crist now hopes to change that. Florida is considering imposing a severance fee on water bottlers. The state would charge companies a six cent tax on every gallon of water they draw. As you might imagine, water bottlers are not happy.

Mr. JIM MCCLELLAN (Nestle): Because it's patently unfair.

ALLEN: Jim McClellan is a spokesman for Nestle, which in Florida bottles water under the Deer Park and Zephyrhills brands. No one is suggesting that bottlers are somehow endangering Florida springs. They take just a tiny fraction of the output. In all, McClellan says, Nestle takes a million gallons a day from Florida. By way of comparison, that's about the amount used daily by two or three golf courses. And golf courses, farmers and others who draw Florida water, he notes, would not pay the fee.

Mr. MCCLELLAN: This tax would only apply to water bottlers. People who add high fructose corn syrup to the same water and sell it as a soft drink would not be subject to this tax. There's just no rationale behind that.

ALLEN: It's estimated that it could generate $56 million in revenue in the first year alone, money that would be reserved for water management projects. The head of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, Mike Sole, says he doesn't believe the proposal unfairly targets water bottlers. One of the major differences, he says, is that water drawn by farmers, golf courses and municipalities is discharged back into the aquifer.

Mr. MIKE SOLE (Department of Environmental Protection, Florida): In this case, water is actually shipped out of the state. We're not singling out water bottlers. We're merely acknowledging there is a different use of that water compared to other water users in the state of Florida.

ALLEN: Water bottlers say a severance fee would put Florida bottling plants at a competitive disadvantage. But it's an idea that's gaining ground nationally. Severance fees had been adopted by Michigan and Vermont and are being considered in Maine. Massachusetts is considering an outright ban on bottled water extractions. Eric Draper of Florida's Audubon Society says these kinds of fees are intended to reimburse Floridians for resources that are commercially exploited and from which they no longer benefit. The new proposal, he says, treats water like other natural resources - phosphate, for example, which is used for fertilizer.

Mr. SOLE: At the time that the tax was put onto phosphate ore, the phosphate companies said we were being singled out. At the time that it was put on lime rock, lime rock companies said we're being singled out. When it was put on oil and gas, they said we're singled out. Every time that someone is taxed for taking a public resource and then reselling it, yeah, they say they're being singled out.

ALLEN: So far the idea to impose a per-gallon fee on water bottlers has not generated much enthusiasm in Florida's legislature. The proposal has yet to gain a sponsor. Making more progress is an alternate plan that would put the burden not on water bottlers but on consumers, imposing a six-cent tax on every bottle of water sold in Florida. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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