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Battle over Bottles Brewing in Connecticut

A battle royal is shaping up over a controversial expansion of the bottle-deposit law that would require new, nickel deposits on millions of bottles of non-carbonated water sold in Connecticut.

According to a report in the Connecticut Post, first-term Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr. is putting the weight of his office behind the legislation, which nearly died in the Environment Committee, but was massively amended and revived in the Senate on April 20.

After passing the Senate 31-3, it's now sitting on the House calendar, where, Capitol insiders believe, it doesn't have enough votes -- yet -- to pass the 151-member chamber.

Indeed, Williams, D-Brooklyn, hosted a Capitol reception last week for environmental activists, whom he has asked for help. He said that industry "disinformation" through a late-breaking but high-powered lobbying campaign, is attempting to kill the bill in the House.

Opponents of the bottle-deposit expansion include grocery and convenience-store owners and beverage bottlers and distributors, many of whom believe that the current bottle-deposit program should be abandoned and the curbside-recycling program expanded.

The Post reports that store owners led by the Connecticut Food Association say the deposit-return program is messy, smelly, unsanitary and costly enough without expanding it to include millions more water bottles each year.

But Williams, a former chairman of the Environment Committee and Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, a current co-chairman, said the bill's a logical way to take the polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) plastic bottles out of the waste stream and away from the state's solid waste incinerators.

"There's no question that we have a fight in terms of the soda lobby and bottlers vs. environmentalists," Williams said in an interview last week. "In the lobbying campaign and the radio ads that are being run, they're trying to convince people it's a tax and the costs were astronomical."

With no incentive to recycle the now-ubiquitous water bottles, more and more are ending up littering beaches, soccer and Little League fields and highways. Ironically, Williams said, the market has never been higher for PET plastic, which is used to manufacture fleece sweaters and other synthetic fabrics. Williams and Roy agree if the curbside recycling program includes all bottles and cans, more people will simply throw away the containers.

"Forty to 60 percent of roadside litter are portable beverage containers," Williams said. "Curbside recycling is great for your spaghetti-sauce jars and cans of Campbell's Soup, but portable beverage containers don't get caught."

Roy, in an interview with the Post, conceded that there doesn't seem to be enough support in the House, which has a 99-52 Democratic majority.

"Would it pass today? I don't know, but I certainly hope we vote on it by the end of next week," Roy said. "It's Sen. Williams' bill and it's important."

Roy agreed that lobbyists are pulling out the stops and using "fear-mongering" tactics to drum up opposition. "They're saying, 'Even though we produce, deliver and sell the stuff, let's make taxpayers pay the bill,'" Roy said. "They say curbside recycling is cheaper, but it's not. They don't want to take responsibility for putting the trash in the system."

Roy, as committee co-chairman, voted against an amendment that essentially gutted the bill, restricting the expansion of the redemption law until surrounding states adopted similar legislation.

Williams stripped the amendment in the Senate, reverting it back to the original bill and sending industry lobbyists into high gear.

Betty McLaughlin, director of environmental affairs for the Connecticut Audubon Society, warned last week that opponents, including Coke, Pepsi and Poland Spring, all of which are major players in the state's lucrative

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