Bottle bill expansion in hands of legislative working group

bottled water

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 19, 2014…..A small working group assembled by a legislative committee will attempt to hammer out a compromise expanding the bottle deposit law that also mitigates costs for bottlers.

Supporters of adding a 5-cent deposit to sports drinks, water and other beverages not covered by the deposit and redemption law say its expansion will boost recycling, while opponents say the law, which went into effect in 1983, is outdated, a burden on bottlers and retailers and not as effective as increased curbside recycling.

The House and Senate chairmen of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, who have differing stances on a bottle bill expansion, each appointed two lawmakers from their branch to the working group. Rep. John Keenan, the House chairman, said he aimed to strike a balance of opinion on the issue with his appointments.

“If we can come up with a compromise that the parties support, I would vote in favor of that to come out of committee, absolutely,” Keenan told the News Service. Without a compromise, the question could be left to voters in November as organizers are mounting an effort to place a question on the ballot.

Keenan, a Salem Democrat who has opposed the bottle bill, appointed Rep. Jennifer Benson, a Lunenburg Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the bottle bill expansion (H 2943), and Rep. Randy Hunt, a Sandwich Republican who opposes the bottle bill.

According to an aide, Sen. Ben Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat who supports the bottle bill, appointed Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat and bottle bill supporter, and Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat who voted as a member of Telecom Committee in 2012 to send the bill to study– essentially destroying its chances to become law.

“I would assume there’d have to be some sort of expansion, and then the issue on the other side are costs, jobs, so is there a place in the middle there,” said Keenan, who said the fee paid by the distributor to the retailer for handling the empties, and distribution costs are concerns. He said, “As happens with any agreement, you don’t get everything you want, but you get a bill that works.”

Keenan declined to say what he thought the compromise would be, preferring to let the subcommittee do the negotiations. The subcommittee will meet with supporters of a bottle bill expansion and opponents to seek common ground, he said.

A coalition of environmental groups and MassPIRG has lobbied for years to expand the bottle bill, while the opposition, consisting chiefly of bottlers and retailers, is organized as Real Recycling for Massachusetts.

Environmentalists led by former Boston Mayor Tom Menino are meanwhile pushing forward with a ballot referendum (H 3848), which is currently in committee, but would be a costly and public winner-take-all scrap if its backers complete the final steps to put it on the November ballot.

“At the end of the day, someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose and it’s going to be more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel, that we’re able to use when we do legislation on Beacon Hill,” Keenan said. He said, “Both sides have polls indicating favorability to their position.”

Rep. John Binienda, a Worcester Democrat, and Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat, have proposed an alternative (S 379 / H 2513) supported by Real Recycling and rejected by the pro-bottle bill expansion groups to affix a 1-cent recycling surcharge on all beverage containers in Massachusetts to fund recycling efforts. The headquarters of Polar Beverage are in the southwestern part of Worcester, a city represented by both Binienda and Moore.

On Wednesday, a deadline for committees to report out timely filed legislation, Keenan said the Telecommunications Committee had extended the reporting deadline to July 15 on the bottle bill – two weeks before the end of formal sessions – and gave the working group a goal of reaching compromise by June 1.

Lawmakers have previously voted against the deposit expansion bill, which has been estimated to generate as much as $20 million in revenue, because Speaker Robert DeLeo and others viewed it as a tax. Gov. Deval Patrick has consistently included the legislation in his budget proposal.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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