Tag Archives: Bottle Bill

The recycling market and Act 148

This is the second of two posts about the Bottle Bill, unclaimed nickels, and universal recycling. Part 1 can be read here.

On July 1, the state of Vermont will ban all recyclable materials from landfills. Under a law called Act 148, everything recyclable is supposed to be kept out of the waste stream.

Hooray, right?

Well yes, but there are issues. (Aren’t there always?) Foremost among them, unsurprisingly, is money. Handling trash will become more expensive post-July 1, especially for trash haulers in smaller, more rural service areas. Haulers can’t impose a charge on recycling, so they’ll have to recoup their costs by raising their tipping fees.

That could induce sticker shock in some places. Tom Moreau of the Chittenden Solid Waste District estimates that some disposal fees could triple under Act 148.

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Nickels from heaven

In these hyper-tight budget times, would it surprise you to know that there’s a couple million bucks just sitting there, waiting for the State of Vermont to pick it up?

This isn’t just one-time money either; it’s an ongoing, steady source of revenue. And yet the Legislature hasn’t made a single move to grab it.

“What is it?” you might be asking.

It’s the unclaimed nickels from deposit bottles that never get redeemed. Right now, that money goes back to the bottling industry — an estimated $2 million per year.

Free gift for the bottlers? The PYT’s from VPIRG certainly think so. They’ve been lobbying, without success, to revise the Bottle Bill and get that money into public coffers.

Ten states have Bottle Bills. In four, the state gets all the unclaimed money. In three, the state gets the lion’s share but a slice goes to retailers, bottlers, or distributors. Only in Iowa, Oregon and Vermont do private companies get all the money. And since yjomhd seem to work in those seven other states, I think it’s safe to assume that the companies don’t need the extra revenue to collect and process the containers.

In fact, they get more money than they need from another source: selling the containers on the recycling market. A lot more money. But we’ll get to that that later.

Okay, so why isn’t the Legislature falling over itself to get those nickels? Two reasons; one immediate, one more far-reaching.

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Big Beverage’s Hired Guns pt. 2: Mountain Dew wishes and Twinkie dreams

“When you work in this building long enough, you notice things like thread count.”              — Anonymous Statehouse scribe

The House Ways and Means Committee heard a full morning’s worth of testimony today on the proposed sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The most interesting witness, not in a good way, was one Kevin Dietly of Massachusetts-based Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, speaking on behalf of the beverage industry. He definitely had the fineest suit in the room, not to mention bright pearly-white teeth. (Oh, and a Google search indicates that he’s a member of the Chautauqua Yacht Club. Must be nice.)

And he acknowledged, in answer to a question from the committee, that he has represented the food and beverage industries since 1986.

That’s a long time serving the same paymasters.

Dietly managed to actually travel to Montpelier, unlike his fellow soulless industry flack Lisa Katic, discussed previously. I don’t imagine it was a sacrifice for ol’ Kev, since he presumably drew full expenses and a fat hourly rate for his visit to Montpelier. (He stuck around for the full morning, billable to “Stop The Vermont Beverage Tax.”)

(This wasn’t his first trip to the Statehouse; in 2013 he testified for the beverage industry against a proposed expansion of Vermont’s Bottle Bill. Surprise, surprise.)

His testimony was a carefully-crafted web of industry-friendly statistics and studies, plus back-handed dismissals of the academic experts who’d preceded him in the witness chair. You know, the economists, doctors, public health experts and nutritionists who have consistently found that…

— Sugar-sweetened beverages are a scourge of the American diet, leading to high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other severe illnesses.

— Taxing a specific commodity invariably leads to lower consumption.

— Lowering consumption of sugary drinks will have a beneficial impact on public health and public-sector healthcare spending.

— There’s no evidence of a significant “border effect”; in fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence that any “border effect” would be minimal or nonexistent.

— The impact on employment is neutral to mildly positive. Consumption of sugary drinks goes down, but people buy other stuff instead.  The equation balances out. Plus, the tax revenue funds jobs in government or the healthcare sector.

Pish-tosh, said Dietly, slamming “academics” who live in “a different world,” a “theoretical world.” When they retreat to their “ivory towers, things get a little wacky.”

Welp, so much for scientific research. Can’t trust anything they say.

As for Mr. Dietly, when you Google his name you get a massive quantity of testimony before various legislative bodies around the country on behalf of the food and beverage industries. Here’s a sampling of The Expensive Wisdom of Kevin Dietly:

He spoke to a New York Senate committee in 2010 in opposition to a proposed beverage tax. His arguments were essentially the same, then and now: a beverage tax would have disastrous economic consequences (but he entirely leaves out the fact that consumers will substitute other items for taxed beverages, thus mitigating the dreaded financial and employment impact), and it wouldn’t have any effect on public health (carefully selected statistics cited, inconvenient ones waved away).

In 2012, California voters faced a ballot measure to require labeling of foods that contain GMOs. (The measure was defeated after a very costly “No” campaign bankrolled by Big Food.) And oh looky here: Kevin Dietly was a hireling of the “No” campaign, and offered a very high estimate of the cost of GMO labeling — as much as $400 per year for each California household. His estimate was based on the assumption that producers would universally switch to costlier ingredients in order to avoid the GMO label (a dubious assumption at best), although he admitted that “We certainly don’t know what will happen.”

Speaking to Nevada lawmakers in 2011 on the subject of recycling and bottle deposits, Dietly positioned the beverage industry as having been “among the leading packaging innovators of the past 100 years,” and touted the industry as supporting a range of programs “to promote recycling.” And then he makes forceful arguments against deposit laws. If you read through his testimony, there are striking parallels in method, style, and type of argument with today’s testimony against the beverage tax.

In 2014 he addressed Connecticut lawmakers about a proposal to expand the state’s bottle bill. He asserts that it would impose unbearable costs on manufacturers and retailers, and had the audacity to depict the deposit/refund system as “counter to the goals of sustainable recycling and materials management.”

In 2002 he spoke before a U.S. Senate committee (chaired by Jim Jeffords) which was considering a “Beverage Producer Responsibility Act.” The concept of “producer responsiblity” has been a mainstay of advancement in environmental law; in Germany, for instance, producers have cradle-to-grave responsibility for their products — from bottles to automobiles. Its economy seems to be getting along just fine, no?

But according to Dietly, such an act would have been costly to consumers and businesses, and had little or no environmental benefit. Hmm, if he thinks there’s a disconnect between the Ivory Tower and reality, I sense a greater disconnect between industry-funded experts and reality.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Kevin Dietly is a well-traveled, amply-compensated spokesflack for the beverage industry, fighting for its interests in legislative halls around the country. His testimony should be judged accordingly.

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

Audio accompaniment to this blogpost:

Well, good ol’ “Bitter Bob” Hartwell, outgoing Republicrat Senator from Bennington, has left his fellow Senators a parting gift: the op-ed equivalent of a flaming bag of poo, entitled “What Senate Democrats Must Do.”

Hartwell’s public statements have shifted to the right in recent months, starting with his infamous skepticism about climate change and continuing through his comments to VTDigger last week that the Democrats have gone too far to the left:

“There’s too much spending, there’s too much social engineering, going on. Our party is getting out of line,” he said.

His opinion piece is more of the same. It reads as though it comes, not from the moderate Democrat he claims to be, but from somewhere to the right of Phil Scott. Indeed, it’s a big fat sloppy wet kiss to the Republican Party, delivered one week before Election Day. I’m sure the timing is coincidental, cough, hack, choke.

Bitter Bob, doing research for his opinion piece.

Bitter Bob, doing research for his opinion piece.

He accuses the Democratic Party of becoming “more ideological and, therefore, less effective and more poorly focused on the real issues.” By which he means, the “real issues” that concern Bitter Bob Hartwell.

He then slaps around Democrats and the Shumlin Administration for the “poor rollout of Vermont Health Connect” and says “The Legislature must determine to put an end to the single payer scheme unless it can clearly show significant savings…”

A reminder: There are two goals in advancing single-payer. One is to bend the cost curve, and the other is to provide universal access to health care. If Bob is only interested in the former, well, I’m glad he will no longer represent the Democratic Party in the new biennium.

Then he gets to property taxes and school funding, which “inexcusably, the Legislature has done virtually nothing to control…” Remind me: wasn’t Bob Hartwell in the Legislature himself?

Also, in one badly-written sentence, he appears to endorse Scott Milne’s proposal for a freeze on property taxes.

Then he takes a dump on the Senate Education Committee for “a most unacceptable performance” in failing to address the issue to Hartwell’s satisfaction. He’s talkin’ to you, Dick McCormack, Don Collins, Phil Baruth, Bill Doyle and David Zuckerman.

Somehow I don’t think Bitter Bob was talking to his colleagues this way when the Senate was still in session and his words could have had some impact. Indeed, it’s hard to tell from this essay that Hartwell was a fairly influential member of the Senate majority instead of an innocent bystander.

He then slams “Vermont’s intoxication with large scale renewable energy,” which fits in with his doubts about climate change. It also buttresses his self-congratulatory impulses, as he upbraids the Senate for refusing to pass his bills to create new obstacles in the path of renewable energy.

After that, it’s on to the core Republican talking point: “Vermont continues to spend too much money,” especially on social services programs, and bitches about “throwing money at problems” in a way that’s straight out of the Angry Jack Lindley playbook.

Hmm. Angry Jack and Bitter Bob. The worst Vaudeville act ever.

And then Hartwell rants about something that’s only a major issue in his own mind: the legislature’s failure to repeal the Bottle Bill, which, he says, wastes money, contributes to carbon pollution*, and “shoves businesses… into New Hampshire.” And he takes a gratuitous slap at VPIRG — or, as Hartwell puts it, “one so-called ‘research’ group.”

* Which, according to Bob himself, isn’t really a problem.

The “get off my lawn” ranting continues for several more paragraphs, in which he bemoans the fact that nobody in the Senate is as wise as Bob Hartwell and unleashes a bunch of howlers, including:

— The Senate fails to act “as a team,” and instead pursues “the interests of each committee with little understanding of the effect… on the state as a whole.” Considering his hijacking of the Natural Resources Committee in pursuit of his favored hobbyhorses, that’s pretty rich.

— Vermont should be more like New Hampshire.

— Our economic doldrums have nothing to do with national trends, “but rather by policies internal to Vermont.”

— Dean Corren is a liar.

Yeah, that’s one huge stinking flaming bag of poo. Thanks, Bitter Bob, for giving us a farewell gesture that reminds us all how lucky we are that you’ve decided to get outta Dodge.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.