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August 18, 2008

Associated Press

Bottle-bill backers bank on Skelos
Senate boss voted for original measure

ALBANY -- Since the state first started tacking a nickel onto carbonated beverage bottles in 1982, the call for a "bigger, better bottle bill" has been an annual event. It's never gone anywhere, crushed by heavy-duty lobbying.

But prospects for expansion of the bill have improved with the naming of Long Island Republican Dean Skelos as the state Senate's new Republican majority leader, backers believe.

Skelos replaced Sen. Joseph Bruno as majority leader in July. Bruno was a powerful opponent of both the original bill and subsequent enhancements. Skelos, on the other hand, voted for the first bottle bill.

"I'm confident he will at least be willing to discuss it, and I'm hopeful he'll help us get this bill passed," said Katie Lawrence, who chairs the 600-member Surfrider Foundation-Central Long Island.

Legislation backed by Gov. David Paterson passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly in June but died in the Senate, where Skelos now leads the narrow Republican majority. Proponents say expanding bottle deposits to non-carbonated beverages should be an environmental priority.

"What he (Skelos) has always said is that all of the sides should come together to develop an approach that balances the interests of the environmental community and consumers who are faced with ever-increasing costs," said Skelos spokesman Scott Reif.

Advocates see other shifts in the wind, including talks that continued through the end of the legislative session in June about possible compromises. They included adding just water bottles to the list, instead of all non-carbonated drinks, and allowing beverage companies to still keep unclaimed deposits, which amount to about $100 million a year.

"Skelos may be more willing to negotiate a compromise on the bottle bill," said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, who voted for the legislation is June. She noted Skelos comes from Long Island, which has a huge litter problem. "I'm sure he's been pressured by environmentalists," she said.

State Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, who is deputy majority leader, said he has had no conversations with Skelos about the bottle bill. Libous has opposed expansion of the bottle bill, saying it would be a burden on taxpayers.

Under the administration proposal, deposits would remain 5 cents and apply to virtually all beverages sold in New York. Unclaimed deposits would go to the state Environmental Protection Fund. The fee paid to stores handling empty bottle returns would increase from 2 cents to 3.5 cents apiece.

Staff Writer George Basler contributed to this story.


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