Wednesday, April 22, 2009

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

The Observer's Jimmy Vielkind follows up on the growing storm over onerous aspects of the recently expanded bottle bill:

"As environmental advocates feted the state's top legislative leaders this morning at an Earth Day celebration in Washington Park, David Paterson said officials would look at the expanded bottle bill--a centerpiece of the green agenda that was enacted this year in the state budget--which some bottlers have said cannot be feasibly implemented in time. By June 1, bottlers are supposed to begin using New York specific-UPC codes on bottles of water, which will now include bottled water. Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for business groups that oppose the bottle bill who continues to beat the drum against it on his blog, said that this is not feasible, because some small bottlers buy their labels a year in advance."

Indeed they do-among other impracticalities and expensive encumbrances to particularly smaller soda and water companies. The masochistic streak in us simply can't wait till the bill actually is implemented, because the resulting sticker shock, really a thinly disguised regressive tax, is gonna reverberate throughout the state at a time when the folks are already reeling from higher taxes and fees.

Apparently, as Vielkind points out, Governor Paterson has begun to recognize the seriousness of the problem: "There is a concern raised by the industry," Paterson said, after accepting an award for his work on the environment. "We don't want to do anything to hurt the industry while we are trying to clean up the environment, and we are talking to them and if they demonstrate to our satisfaction that they can't undergo this change in time, we'll certainly, one of the reasons that we're in government is that government continues to try to get it right, even more than we have before. We'll be amenable to that."

Better late than never, we suppose; and, as Speaker Silver tells the Observer, there are a number of methods that can be used to ameliorate the situation: "Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said it was a "technical issue" that would be addressed. Lawmakers could write and pass a chapter amendment--a bill which amends the earlier budget bill--moving the deadline back. It could also be included in a budget cleanup bill, which fixes typos and dollar amounts in the now-enacted omnibus spending plan."

How far reaching any changes will be is unpredictable. What is predictable, however, is that we will be found in disagreement with NYPIRG's Laura Haight: "If that happens, bottlers will push for relief for some businesses, Lipsky said. Bottle Bill advocates, including NYPIRG's Laura Haight, said any change should be small and limited."

And, as one commenter to the Observer blog points out, small brewers will also be negatively impacted-underscoring our point that the entire expansion effort is a dagger in the heart of all small beverage companies; at least if no changes are appropriately made: "As a drinker of microbrew beer I have been hearing from retailers who handle hard-to-find brews. They indicate that currently it looks as if small breweries will elect to drop NY rather than set up special labeling and product segregation. And what surprised me, one Albany retailer thought that brewers actually in NY might drop NY and sell to the national market. Particularly the canned beers, like Dale's and Snapperhead, which have to be printed as the can is produced rather than just labeled."

Still, lawmakers appear to be responsive to the legitimate worries of the industry. Now comes the hard part-where the devilish details are fought over. Stay tuned.