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Vermont moves ahead with mercury-labeling law

By The Associated Press

02.28.02

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — The state of Vermont is going forward with plans to implement a state law requiring the labeling of electrical products that contain mercury.

The move comes in the wake of a decision Feb. 26 by a U.S. Supreme Court justice not to block a decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the law to take effect.

"We are one step closer to getting consumer information out to people on mercury containing products," Chris Recchia, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said yesterday. "We've always maintained that the industry could label these lamps and let people know how to take care of them properly."

But an official with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which went to court to block the 1998 law, said yesterday that it would appeal the case to the full U.S. Supreme Court.

Ric Erdheim said the law was unconstitutional and would not meet its goal of reducing the amount of mercury that finds its way into the environment. Instead, he said, by discouraging the use of energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, it would increase the amount of mercury that reaches the environment because the largest single source of mercury is electric power plants.

"Even if you thought it was important to get the word out to residents, it's the least effective way to recover mercury," Erdheim said.

He said the best way to encourage the recycling of products containing mercury would be inserts in electric bills.

He also said a Vermont-only labeling law would drive up the cost of electrical products for everyone.

In 1998, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring labels on fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and other products containing mercury to warn that they should be recycled when disposed of or treated as hazardous waste.

NEMA sued, saying the law violated its member companies' First Amendment rights by compelling speech and the Constitution's commerce clause by interfering with interstate trade.

In 1999, Vermont's U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha agreed with the association and blocked implementation of the law. Vermont appealed.

Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico and Oklahoma filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Vermont's appeal.

Last fall the 2nd Circuit overturned Murtha's decision.

Last week, NEMA asked Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to stay the decision of the appeals court. On Feb. 26, Ginsburg rejected NEMA's request without comment.

Recchia said Ginsburg's decision means his department can continue with plans to fully implement the law.

He said that while NEMA had objected to the law, largely over the issue of fluorescent light bulbs, other manufacturers were ready to go.

Recchia said that mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs were of great value in saving power. He disagreed with Erdheim's assertion that the labels would discourage people from buying fluorescent light bulbs.

"They think consumers are stupid and can't understand the difference between a product that is useful and still needs to be managed properly," Recchia said. "I think they are selling consumers short."

Erdheim said he didn't know how long it would be before the Supreme Court decided whether or not to hear the case.

Update

High court turns away challenge to Vermont mercury-labeling law
Electrical manufacturers had argued that 1998 statute violated its member companies' First Amendment rights by compelling speech.  06.12.02

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