The Auburn Citizen
Budget going green
by The Associated Press
ALBANY - New Yorkers would face deposits on more beverage bottles, a new office would address global warming and the state would continue acquiring open space - a hallmark of the Pataki administration - under the environmental agenda proposed this week by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
The new Democratic governor's budget, released Wednesday, contains almost $1.17 billion for the state Department of Environmental Conservation for 2007-2008, up $47 million or 4 percent. It proposes $25 million in revenue increases from non-carbonated bottle deposits the first year, and almost $10 million more from industrial permits for pollution discharges and other measures.
Gov. George Pataki “did some good things in the environment, especially with land,” Willie Janeway of the Nature Conservancy said of the three-term Republican governor who cut deals to protect more than 1 million acres from development through conservation easements or purchases. “Spitzer's been talking about taking it one step further and really addressing the complex environmental problems.”
Janeway, who also chairs a coalition of more than 200 environmental groups, said problems include sprawl, climate change, invasive plant and animal species and protecting farmland and drinking water supplies.
The hot button is expanding the 25-year-old bottle law to cover water, juice, iced tea and sports drinks. A nickel deposit is now required on beer and soda cans and bottles to ensure they get recycled, .
The proposal drew immediate opposition from a business coalition called New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, which said the price for each bottle and can sold in stores would rise by about 15 cents.
“Expanding the deposit law is simply about raising money for the state off of our grocery bills,” said James Rogers, president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, on behalf of the coalition.
Judith Enck, Spitzer's chief environmental adviser, said that group's estimate doesn't make sense. “The only justifiable price increase would be 1.5 cents per container,” she said.
Under current law, grocers keep a handling fee of 2 cents per container and the bottling companies keep unclaimed deposits on beer, soda and wine coolers, the beverages that account for about 75 percent of the market. Under the proposal, groceries would keep 3.5 cents, and unclaimed nickel deposits would go to the state - an estimated $100 million or more a year that would be used for state environmental programs starting next Jan. 1.
A similar measure passed the Assembly the past two years and, despite some Senate Republican sponsors, was blocked by Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, said Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group. There would still be exceptions for milk, baby formula and wine in the proposed new law. “The money is nice, but what is really of value is it produces clean communities,” she said.
On Wednesday, Bruno had called the expanded bottle bill “more than a little fee,” adding some estimates show it would generate up to $200 million as an “additional tax” on people who drink bottled and canned beverages. “So we're going to look at that very closely because we don't want any new taxes ... However, I'm not dead set against anything. We're open to explore whatever makes sense in the context of negotiating a new budget.”
Matthew Maguire, spokesman for the Business Council of New York State, said his group is concerned about new industrial fees and has reservations about the bottle bill. “Whether you call it a tax or a fee, any new cost imposed on facilities is a concern in a state where businesses are already struggling to cope with high costs,” he said.
The executive budget proposes adding 109 positions for a DEC staff of 3,480, including a new Climate Change Office with a staff of 12. During the election campaign, Spitzer said global warming was the major issue facing his generation. The DEC currently has 1.5 staffers working on the issue and a proposed rule carried over from the Pataki administration for participating in a regional initiative to limit carbon dioxide from power plants and auction off greenhouse gas allowances.
That program is to start in 2009, Enck said. Also, New York is going to follow California in issuing a regulation for cuts in vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide, which was also proposed by the Pataki administration, she said.
“We're watching that like hawks” for congressional attempts at federal pre-emption, Enck said.
The Spitzer budget's proposed Pollution Prevention Institute would recruit nonprofits and academics to set up an institute to provide technical assistance to businesses to cut their use of toxic chemicals - such as solvents used to clean equipment - when there are less toxic alternatives, Enck said. “It's completely voluntary for companies, and we think it's going to improve their bottom line,” she said.
The budget would rise from $50 million to $58 million for land acquisition, including closing some of Pataki's easement deals, Enck said. “And we want to do more land acquisitions,” she said.