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March 21, 2007

The Journal News

Bottle bill revenue a bone of contention

HARRISON - Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to expand New York's bottle law could provide much-needed money for environmental projects in the region, including the cleanup of contaminated lands and the protection of watersheds, the leader of a local conservation group said yesterday.

The millions of dollars in unclaimed bottle deposits that Spitzer's plan would pay into the state's Environmental Protection Fund would help it keep pace with the growing demand to protect land from development and reclaim industrial sites for public uses, said Paul Gallay, executive director of the Westchester Land Trust.

"This is a fund that has to continue to expand if the interest in reclaiming brownfields, if the interest in improving infrastructure and in protecting open space for public recreation, watershed protection, storm water management is to continue to advance," Gallay told a meeting of the The Journal News' editorial board, which was reviewing the bottle bill proposal.

Spitzer's plan to expand the bottle bill, which was enacted in 1982, has emerged as a major sticking point in the ongoing budget negotiations between the governor and the Republican-controlled state Senate, which opposes the measure. Gallay was one of six advocates from both sides of the issue to meet with the newspaper's editors yesterday.

Jonathan Pierce, a consultant for New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform - a coalition of bottlers, distributors and stores that opposes Spitzer's plan - argued that the new bottle bill would only marginally increase the number of bottles that are recycled but would significantly increase the handling costs to bottlers and supermarkets. Those costs, he added, would eventually be passed along to consumers.

"You are creating an unfunded mandate and you are increasing the cost to consumers," Pierce said.

Spitzer's plan, which was part of the budget he introduced in January, would include juices, water and other beverages to the list of bottles on which consumers must pay a nickel deposit. Currently, the law only covers soda and beer containers.

Also, the law would change who gets to keep the unclaimed the deposits. Bottlers are now allowed to keep the unclaimed deposits, which, according to some estimates, account for as much as $200 million a year. Spitzer's plan is for the state to claim those unredeemed deposits and place the money in the environmental fund.

"It's really about the money," said Kevin Dietly, an environmental consultant who argued against the new bottle bill. "Everybody wants the unclaimed nickels."

Environmental groups, however, believe opponents are overstating the burden the proposal would place on bottlers and retailers. They see the measure as an effective way to encourage consumers to properly dispose of the bottles and keep them from ending up as litter.

"The bottle bill is about fairness," said Andy Bicking, director of education and volunteers for Scenic Hudson. "It is about producer and consumer responsibility for waste."

Reach Glenn Blain at gblain@lohud.com or 914-694-5066


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