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August 15, 2009

stargazette.com

Bottled water law moves forward

ALBANY - A federal judge has lifted an injunction that was delaying a new law to charge nickel deposits on bottled water and require beverage companies to give the state 80 percent of unclaimed deposits, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Friday.

The expansion of New York's bottle-deposit law was supposed to take effect June 1, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ruled in late May that it wouldn't take effect until at least April 2010. A trade association and two bottling companies had filed a lawsuit alleging that some of the legislation's provisions were unconstitutional.

But Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts ruled late Thursday that most provisions of the law could take effect immediately. That means soda and beer companies have to return the bulk of unclaimed deposits to the state, and the handling fee for stores and redemption centers will increase from 2 cents to 3.5 cents per container.

"Our victory will ensure that the most critical elements of the bill move forward expeditiously, resulting not only in cleaner communities and new, green jobs but also in over $100 million in added revenue for New York," Cuomo said in a statement.

Water companies have until Oct. 22 to comply with the law unless they prove that compliance is impossible, according to Cuomo.

However, industry representatives said they're disappointed with the decision.

The New York State Beer Wholesalers Association is asking Gov. David Paterson to put a clause in the law so it would be gradually implemented to give beverage companies time to adjust.

The law "will result in drastic price increases to consumers and devastating losses to wholesalers, potentially forcing some to go out of business," Steven Harris, association president, said in a statement.

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the bill had been in the works for so long, beverage companies should have been prepared.

"We've fought so hard for this law," Haight said. "We're just looking forward for the law to finally go into effect and finally seeing the environmental benefits here in New York."

She said her organization and other advocates for the law would continue to push for it to include iced teas, sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages.

Consumption of bottled water has surged in the last 20 years, with roughly 3.2 billion bottles being bought annually, Haight said.

The parties in the lawsuit * the International Bottled Water Association, Nestle Waters North America and Polar Corp. * are due in court Oct. 22. Batts' decision said the court expects the plaintiffs are "actively working" to comply with the law. Nestle had already said it could do so by Oct. 1.

Batts' order prevents the New York State-specific UPC labeling code requirements in the law from taking effect. The provision required beverage companies to put a code that was unique to New York on all bottles. Businesses had complained it would be costly and onerous to implement.

Paterson said the decision is a victory not only for the state's environment, but also for its finances. The returns from beverage companies are expected to bring in about $115 million a year for the state, a much-needed boost during tough fiscal times, he said in a statement.

The judge's order means New York will not lose hundreds of jobs in primarily family-owned small businesses, said Sheila Rivers, owner of EZ Bottle and Can Returns in Monroe County and chairwoman of the New York State Bottle and Can Redemption Association.

"For all redemption centers across the state ... this is just something that we had been waiting for for a long time," Rivers said. "It's going to save so many jobs and so many businesses. It's nice to see that reason has prevailed."

New York's original bottle-deposit law took effect in 1982.

http://www.stargazette.com/article/20090815/NEWS01/908150343/Bottled+water+law+moves+forward


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