March 29, 2007
Bye-Bye, Bottle Bill
by Buck Quigley
Lobbyists working to defeat the Bigger Better Bottle Bill let out a collective sigh of relief on March 31, when the item was sacrificed from Governor Eliot Spitzer’s 2007 state budget in order to pass the overall budget by the April 1 deadline.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno echoed the stance he has maintained for the past three years, saying, “We see it as a tax increase that would increase New Yorkers’ grocery bills and make them take more trash back to the stores.”
The “trash” referred to is the three billion noncarbonated beverage containers sold annually statewide that do not require a nickel deposit. Estimates suggest that if recycling rates for those containers were brought to a level on par with beer and soda bottles and cans, it could save 600,000 barrels of crude oil, and greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 20,000 metric tons.
This also means that beverage distributors and bottlers dodged a $180-million bullet by having this item crossed off the budget, as it would have redirected unclaimed nickel deposits away from them and into the coffers of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The bill could have replaced $180 million of the tax dollars that currently fund the DEC, in other words.
As it stands, the unclaimed nickels will still revert to the pockets of beverage distributors and soda bottlers in the form of a $180-million annual windfall.
While beverage distributors, bottlers, supermarkets and their lobbyists celebrate the victory, they anticipate that the governor will try to reintroduce the proposal as a Governor’s Program Bill and are preparing to beat it down once again later in the legislative session.
Typical of Albany’s secretive, special interest jockeying, this latest defeat of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill could still ultimately be just another setback, as environmental groups and ordinary citizens continue to see the merits of effectively dealing with this form of packaging waste. The State Assembly has already voted in favor of the bill by a two-to-one margin, two years running.
Clearly the only one standing in the way is the spokesperson for the business and corporate community, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. And his spokespeople will tell you with a straight face that a tax is something that is 100 percent refundable, and a bottle, once empty, is merely trash.
That’s the kind of thinking that has made it possible for otherwise rational Americans to see nothing wrong in burying tens of billions (with a “b”) of dollars worth of aluminum cans in landfills over the past 35 years.