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An even better bottle bill; Use unclaimed deposits to bolster state's Environmental Protection Fund

These days, New York State could use every penny, but some loose change is better spent elsewhere. Such is the case with the proposal by Sen. Mark J. Grisanti and Assemblyman George S. Latimer, which would direct bottle deposit revenues to the Environmental Protection Fund.

The final budget maintained the same level of funding for the fund as in the past two years -- $134 million -- but environmentalists convincingly argue that the long-term needs continue to outpace available revenues.

In the upcoming session that is scheduled to end June 21, the Legislature should phase the bottle deposit money to this fund.

Currently, the state is collecting about $115 million a year in unclaimed deposits from the Bigger Better Bottle Bill passed in 2009.

Bills by Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and Latimer, D-Rye, would provide a net increase in the amount of money added to the Environmental Protection Fund as a result of the Returnable Beverage Container Law, commonly known as the Bottle Bill.

The phase-in would begin with 25 percent of the monies received by the state to be placed in the Environmental Protection Fund in fiscal year 2013-14; 50 percent of monies would be placed in the fund in 2014-15; and 75 percent into the fund in fiscal year 2015-16. Starting in 2016-17, 100percent of the money would go into the fund.

The logic for sending the money into the fund, versus the common practice of returning it to the state's own general coffers, is simple. The Bottle Bill is, as Grisanti's bill says, one of the state's most successful recycling and anti-litter initiatives. Nonbelievers need only look around at the amount of debris in public parks, playgrounds and beaches, which has considerably lessened since the law was enacted.

The Bottle Bill places a nickel deposit on containers of carbonated soft drinks, soda water, beer and other malt beverages, mineral water (carbonated and noncarbonated), wine products and bottled water that does not contain sugar.

But it wasn't easy expanding the original 1982 bottle legislation to go beyond beer and carbonated beverages, which, in addition to decreasing the amount of litter, was initially intended to supplement the Environmental Protection Fund. The fund produces revenue for multiple programs that protect land, water and air.

Protecting the environment is the right thing, but EPF investments have also had a direct effect on agriculture and farming in Amherst, Elma, Clarence and Marilla.

Millions from the fund go into this area for jobs and increased efficiencies at local businesses and more than $5 million toward municipal recycling programs, waterfront revitalization, cultural and heritage asset protection. Together, they make for a strong case in reclaiming the unclaimed deposits and putting their financial muscle where they belong.