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September 22, 2009

Poughkeepsie Journal

No more delay on expanded bottle bill

This one should have been simple.

The state already has a bottle-deposit law, and it works quite well - for what it covers. But, for years, a fair number of lawmakers conceded the law had become out of date.

While there is a 5-cent deposit on beer and soda containers, many other drinks and beverages - from bottled water to iced tea - were not included in the recycling effort.

Repeated efforts were made to expand the bottle law, but, for years, then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno wouldn't let the matter come to a Senate vote, a move that curried favor with the powerful beverage lobbyists.

Finally, earlier this year, the state had a breakthrough of sorts. The law was expanded, and the implementation date was supposed to be June 1.

But little works so seamlessly when it comes to New York government. State leaders made two major mistakes when expanding the law.

First, they required a unique bar code for New York, but didn't give the bottlers enough time to make the adjustment.

What's more, they focused on adding water bottles to the deposit law but left sports drinks, iced tea and other beverages out of the mix.

Predictable reactions happened next.

The bottlers complained they couldn't meet the deadline for a unique bar code for New York. Then, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping New York from charging a nickel deposit on water bottles and requesting the state and the bottlers give more information so a reasonable date could be set to initiate the expansion.

The court subsequently lifted the injunction, giving the bottled-water industry until Oct. 22 to implement the program. But the court opened the door to allowing the bottlers more time if they can demonstrate the need.

State officials say they are moving forward with the Oct. 22 start date, believing the industry has had sufficient time to make the transition. The courts will have to sign off on the matter. The state expects to generate about $100 million through the expansion, since the bulk of the money from unclaimed nickels will go to New York's coffers. While the money is needed, the bottle deposit is predominately a sound environmental policy.

The state says about 6 billion of the beer and soda containers are returned annually - it estimates 3.2 billion water bottles will be added to that number under the expansion.

Not only must state officials get this expansion going as soon as possible, they should improve on it, adding sugary beverages and other drinks not required to have deposits. Gov. David Paterson initially pitched the deposit expansion this way, but settled on just water during budget negotiations with lawmakers earlier this year. About a dozen states have deposit laws, and Maine, Hawaii and Oregon have extended the program to water and other noncarbonated drinks. New York has ample reasons to join them.

This expansion should have been easy - and thorough. To date, the state has failed on both accounts.


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