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June 17, 2009

The Daily Gazette

Let bottle law proceed

It wasn’t quite what state Sen. Hiram Monserrate is alleged to have done to his girlfriend with a broken bottle, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa’s decision last month stopping implementation of the newly adopted Bigger, Better Bottle Bill until next year was a serious blow to the state’s environment and treasury. We are glad to see that a judge other than Griesa (who is on vacation) has agreed to rehear the case Thursday. There’s a good argument to be made that Griesa went too far in his decision, causing real hardship for the state.

The original 1982 bottle law was a huge environmental success, almost eliminating this type of litter and keeping countless tons of aluminum and glass out of landfills. Now plastic water bottles are the biggest problem, and the new law addressed it by extending the nickel deposit system for beer and soda to them.

Admittedly there were some flaws in the new law. The implementation date of June 1 was too early for the beverage companies to get deposit labels on their bottles, many of which were already sitting on wholesalers’ or retailers’ shelves. And the state-specific UPC bar code, designed to prevent fraud (someone buying bottles in a neighboring state and returning them here for deposit), was particularly onerous — as well as unconstitutional in Griesa’s eyes.

After the beverage companies raised a fuss, the governor and legislative leaders made clear that they were willing to delay implementation, and perhaps even eliminate the state-specific bar code provision. But Griesa’s decision took it out of their hands, delaying implementation until next April. And that’s not all — he went beyond implementation and labeling to issues the beverage companies weren’t even contesting, like the handling fee for grocery stores and recycling centers and the state’s taking 80 percent of unclaimed water bottle deposits.

Griesa could have let those provisions take effect. By not doing so, and by delaying implementation so long, he is costing the state $115 million in desperately needed funds, as well as making sure that more than 2 billion water bottles remain along the roadside and in the waste stream. He is also giving the beverage companies more time to lobby and undo this important law. If the new judge won’t change Griesa’s decision, as he should, the state should appeal.


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