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February 9, 2009

Star Gazette

Fight over N.Y. bottle bill heats up

ALBANY -- While recycling advocacy groups met Monday to push a bill to expand the five-cent bottle deposit to include non-carbonated beverages and sports drinks saying it will bring in more revenue than the state anticipated, some lawmakers and industry representatives remain skeptical.

Gov. David Paterson's proposal to designate $25 million to help plug this year’s budget gap by expanding the bottle bill, which currently covers carbonated beverages and beer containers, did not pass in the Legislature. But Paterson is proposing it as part of his budget plan for the next fiscal year that starts April 1 to help close a $13 billion budget hole.

The groups released a study including that says expanding the bill would bring in more than $218 million in revenue for the state, compared to the $118 million originally projected by the Paterson’s Budget Division. The study was done by the Container Recycling Institute in 2006 and research conducted by the New York Public Interest Research group last month.

The revenue would be added to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, from which Paterson and lawmakers took $75 million to help close this year’s budget hole. That fund now gets its money from taxes on real estate transfers.

But some key lawmakers still don't support the bill.

For example, Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Nassau County, said he feared using money from unclaimed deposits for environmental projects could be unstable in the future, since it is unclear how much people will continue to recycle.

"As the EPF's original source of funding, the Real Estate Transfer Tax was selected based on the environmental impacts of suburban sprawl and that the programs within the EPF that would mitigate these effects," Marcellino, the ranking minority member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said in a letter to the Legislature in opposition to the bill.

Sen. Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, said he hasn't decided whether to support the measure.

"I haven't made that judgment yet," Smith said. "I'm talking to both sides."

The state Business Council opposes the bill because "We see it as just an additional tax on New York state manufactures, bottlers, distributors and ultimately consumers," said spokesman Michael Moran.

It would create problems for retailers who collect the recycling because they would have to pay for additional storage space, Moran said. In addition, municipalities use the money they earn from recycling bottles and cans to fund their programs, he said.

New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, a coalition of businesses, manufacturers and labor unions, also doesn't support the bill, spokesman John Pierce said.

"We think it's an expensive way to make a minimal impact on the environment and will end up costing average New Yorkers a great deal of money," Pierce said.

But advocacy groups are still pushing for the bill's passage.

"It would be indefensible for state legislators and the governor to allow the
beverage industry to retain this money while making deep cuts to environmental protection, health care, social services and other critical programs," said Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

More than 4.6 billion bottles and cans of non-carbonated beverages were sold in New York in 2006, totaling 34 percent of the total beverage market, according to the Container Recycling Institute's study.

The unclaimed deposits in 2006 totaled $144 million, and would have amounted to $218 million under the expanded bottle law, according to the report.

However, it is impossible to predict exactly how much money will be made from unclaimed deposits in the coming year, Haight said.

"We can do a better job in protecting the future for our young people and their families, and not dumping all these materials into landfills," said Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

Bottles and cans make up roughly 3 percent of the waste in landfills according to a study conducted by an environmental consultant hired by New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, Pierce said.

In response to Smith's statement, the list of more than 700 groups that support the bill try to convince the leader and his fellow Democrats to back it, Thompson said.

"Everyday customers walk in to our store with all these types of containers mixed in, wondering why they can't get a refund for them," said Sheila Rivers, chairwoman of the Bottle and Can Redemption Association, a coalition of recycling-center workers.

Rivers also owns EZ Bottle and Can Return, a redemption center based in Fairport, Monroe County.

"Expanding the containers to include those types of bottles and cans would give us a big growth opportunity across the state," Rivers said.

If the bottle bill passes, redemption centers across the state will grow and expand, creating thousands of new "green" jobs, she said.


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