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Rep. calls for repeal of bottle bill; Bastien says border towns lose business.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - The bottle bill debate was back on Beacon Hill yesterday, with a twist.

While scores of legislators and environmentalists lined up again to support a proposed expansion of the bottle bill to include deposits on water and sports drink containers, state Rep. Richard Bastien, D-Gardner, called for the bottle bill to be repealed.

The proposed expansion of the bottle bill has been rejected year after year for more than a decade, usually dying in committee without a floor vote by the heavily lobbied Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

This year, however, environmental groups and lawmakers, who want nickel deposits on more bottles and cans to create new state revenue from unclaimed deposits, curb litter and promote recycling, have mounted a major new push for passage.

Mr. Bastien, D-Gardner, made the argument before the committee that while the bottle bill made sense three decades ago, its usefulness has been surpassed by the success of curbside and drop-off household recycling programs.

"Drop-off and curbside recycling have now increased to the point to make the bottle deposit system redundant," Mr. Bastien said, blasting the proposal to expand the deposits as "a feel-good measure that hurts our own citizens."

He said border communities, including four in his district, lose business to New Hampshire stores where there are no deposits. Moreover, after saving $1.20 per case on soda in the Granite State, he said, consumers can get $1.20 more redeeming the containers in Massachusetts, even though New Hampshire containers are not supposed to be redeemed.

As for littering, he said, there is three times more fast-food paper trash than cans and bottles on the roadways and New Hampshire roads are just as litter-free as those in Massachusetts.

But environmental advocates had plenty of counterpoints supporting the legislation to expand the bill, with Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, listing her top 10 reasons to the committee at its hearing.

She said thousands of citizens have signed postcards supporting the expansion while the bill has languished in committee for 14 years, making passage "drastically overdue." Connecticut, Maine and New York have expanded their bottle deposit laws, and state officials say cities and towns would save up to $7 million annually in avoided disposal costs and litter cleanup, she said.

Ms. Domenitz said while 80 percent of containers with deposits get recycled, 22 percent of containers that do not have deposits get recycled. She said two top tax experts in the state - Michael J. Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation - have said the bill does not amount to a new tax on people.

Ninety state and local organizations, 81 legislators and 199 cities and towns support the expansion, she said.

And the No. 1 reason the bill should get adopted, she said, is: "Seventy-seven percent of the public supports the update," according to a Mass Inc. poll conducted this year.
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Title Annotation:MONEY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Jul 21, 2011
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