April 30, 2009
Bottle bill faces possible delay
ALBANY — Expanding New York’s bottle-deposit law to containers of water could be delayed for months under proposals being discussed by Senate Democrats, leading environmental groups to worry that the new law may be diluted.
Under a law passed this month, New York will add a nickel deposit on bottled water starting June 1, an expansion of the 26-year-old law that requires deposits on bottles and cans of soda and beer.
But continued pushback from bottlers and distributors has prompted some state lawmakers to want to trash pieces of the new law and delay its adoption - to as late as Jan. 1.
Sen. Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, who heads the powerful Senate Finance Committee, this week submitted a bill that would push the start date back to Jan. 1 and remove a controversial plan to require new bottles to have a New York-specific bar codes.
“In our zest to get this thing done, things don’t work as fast as we would like them to,” he said.
Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, said he hasn’t seen Kruger’s bill, but suggested that the start date could be delayed and the bar-code regulation could be nixed.
“It’s too premature to comment one way or the other,” he said.
Some senators have pitched pushing the start date back until after the summer so the law wouldn’t interfere with the bottling industry’s busiest season, when about 75 percent of all beer and soda is sold.
Any possible delay has drawn concern from environmental groups, which spent decades trying to get the bottle-deposit law expanded to include bottles of water.
“The longer they leave these issues unresolved, it leaves more time for opponents of the law to work to weaken it,” said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders indicated last week that they may need to revisit the bar-code issue, saying it appears bottlers have a legitimate concern that they won’t be able to mark all the bottles by June 1.
But they didn’t say they would be open to pushing back the start date on other aspects of the law. On June 1, the state will start to collect 80 percent of all unclaimed deposits from distributors.
Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney, D-Suffolk County, said any changes to the law would require an agreement among the Assembly, Senate and governor. And Sweeney said he would not support any delay in starting the law, except for delaying the bar-code issue to study it further.
“Beyond that, I don’t see a reason to delay anything,” Sweeney said. “As far as I’m concerned the deposit on water bottles begins June 1, and that’s the way it should be.”
Jo Natale, spokeswoman for Wegmans Food Markets, said a New York-specific bar code would impact distribution and likely limit stores’ selection of beverages.
Under the new law, bottlers no longer get to keep all revenue from unclaimed deposits and also have to bear the expense of distributing new bottles, said Jon Pierce, spokesman for New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, which represents the bottling industry. Bottlers will now get to keep 20 percent of the revenue from unclaimed deposits.
“There is some momentum to fix it to make it at least doable,” he said. “We still think it’s the wrong thing to do though.”