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High court turns away challenge to Vermont mercury-labeling law

By The Associated Press

06.12.02

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MONTPELIER, Vt. — The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to Vermont's 1998 mercury-labeling law, which encourages consumers to properly dispose of products containing mercury.

The decision not to hear the appeal, filed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, issued June 10, lifts the last barrier to full implementation of the law.

"This is very good news for Vermont," said Chris Recchia, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Manufacturers of many products that contain mercury, such as thermostats and thermometers, are already complying with the law, Recchia said.

The decision means that lamp manufacturers will have until December to write the labels and have them approved by the state. The labels themselves should start appearing on the lights sometime early next year.

Over time, the law will help reduce the amount of mercury that finds its way into the environment because people will become aware of how they can recycle the products, Recchia said.

"Consumers, when they are aware a product needs to be managed in a certain way, they will act responsibly," he said.

Mercury in the environment can collect in the fatty tissue and lead to neurological problems in people. Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to its problems. They're advised against eating many species of fish because mercury can concentrate in the fish.

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

NEMA also argued the law would discourage the use of energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, which contain mercury, and drive up the costs of electrical products for everyone.

In 1999, Vermont U.S. District Court 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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Murtha's decision.

Earlier this year NEMA asked the full Supreme Court to hear the case.

In its June 10 order, the court denied NEMA's request.

"This is a resounding victory for all Vermonters, and perhaps for citizens around the world, who have a right to know that fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury and must be recycled," said Michael Bender, the director of the Mercury Policy Project, which pushed for the law.

"The only way to keep mercury out of our food is to keep it out of our global environment," Bender said.

Previous

Vermont moves ahead with mercury-labeling law
National Electrical Manufacturers Association contends statute violates member companies' First Amendment rights by compelling speech.  02.28.02

Related

2001-2002 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of the 2001-2002 U.S. Supreme Court term.  11.01.01

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