May 30, 2009
Uncertainty over bottle deposit law
Judge's order seems to indicate that handling fees could be frozen
Redemption centers and retailers who collect millions of bottles and cans returned by consumers were suddenly on edge on Friday with word that the handling fees they expected to increase on Monday could be frozen.A copy of a written order from U.S. District Court Judge Thomas P. Griesa, who struck down two other portions of the state's expanded bottle deposit law in an oral decision from the bench on Wednesday, now seems to put the entire law on hold until next April.
It was unclear late Friday, however, whether the order had been filed.
Griesa's oral ruling last week already made clear that parts of the new law that expanded the state's nickel-deposit system to water bottles and required state-specific UPC bar codes on all containers sold in New York would be delayed for at least one to four months.
But none of the parties in the lawsuit expressed any doubt that the scheduled hike in the current 2 cent handling fees to 3.5 cents would take effect on June 1.
Laura Haight of New York Public Interest Research Group said she was fielding panicked calls from owners of small redemption centers who were counting on the handling fee hike to keep their businesses viable.
"Businesses absolutely will shut down if there is an extended delay in the handling fees," she said late Friday afternoon.
The chief executive officer of Connecticut-based Nestlé Waters North America, which was part of a coalition of bottlers and distributors who challenged the law, issued a statement endorsing a delay until April 2010.
CEO Kim Jeffery said the delay will provide time to address broader problems with the law, which the company claims damages community-based recycling programs.
"Now is the time for the state Legislature and the governor to address the environmental weaknesses of the new law," Jeffery said.
A spokesman for state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was not immediately able to clarify the status of the judge's order and the handling fees.