Keystone brews can of controversy

Rachel Alexander

Credit: Cornelius
Credit: Cornelius

Somewhere on the Whitman campus tonight, a group of students will get together to have a few beers. More likely than not, they will drink Keystone, popular among students for its affordability. What Whitman students may not know is that Keystone is owned and produced by the Coors Brewing Company, which has a history of labor practices and political affiliations that might surprise some students.

The Adolph Coors Foundation has historically funded right-wing think tanks with profits from the Coors Brewing Company, including a $250,000 grant to start the Heritage Foundation. A $36.5 million endowment to the Castle Rock Foundation in 1993 enabled Castle Rock to fund right-wing think tanks, abstinence-only education and groups that focus on traditional family values.

First-year Will Bender said he respects the company’s right to spend money how it wants, but disagrees with Coors’ political positions. He said, if given a choice at a keg, he would prefer another type of beer.

“If you have two kegs at a party and they both cost the same, why wouldn’t you pick the one that doesn’t donate to crazy things?” Bender said.

In 1977, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations began a 10-year boycott of Coors, protesting perceived attempts by the company to break up unionized Coors employees.

Unhappy about a Coors policy to force prospective employees to take a polygraph about their sexuality, gay rights groups joined the boycott.

In 1978, Coors addressed gay rights concerns by removing questions of sexual orientation from the hiring process. Coors began providing benefits for same-sex couples in 1995 and hired Mary Cheney, the openly gay daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, as a “corporate relations manager for the gay and lesbian market” in 1998.

Coors has also been accused of polluting Clear Creek: located near its Colorado brewery: with carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals. In 1990, Coors pled guilty to two counts of water pollution and paid a $650,000 fine. The company also had two beer spills in the 1990s, which resulted in the death of thousands of fish in the stream.

Senior environmental politics major Kati Kallins feels that a company’s environmental record should factor into a consumer’s decision about whether to buy its products.

“I definitely believe in environmental consumerism as an important tool  for showcasing one’s opinion of certain business practices,” she said.

Coors made a public effort to reduce its pollution after the spills, participating in voluntary audits of both carbon emissions and water pollution and donating $30,000 to the Clear Creek Watershed. In 1992, Coors began research on its volatile organic chemical emissions. When the company found them to be 17 times above the legal limit, the state of Colorado fined Coors $1 million for the violation.

Senior Lisa Curtis thinks it’s important to keep a company’s political and environmental views in mind when buying their products. She said that she and her housemates drink New Belgium Beer because they approve of the causes it supports. New Belgium is a co-op which is wind powered, uses cogeneration to heat their plant and has an 85 percent waste-stream diversion rate.

“It’s the best beer ever,” she said.

However, Keystone is one of the cheapest beers available.  While Whitman students might care about Coors’ political past, for many, the bottom line will still be cost.

“If I’m paying to do something, I don’t have lots of money,” said Bender. “It’s cheap. We’re in college. It’s going to happen.”