NRCM just achieved a big legislative victory with passage of a sweeping, first-in-the-nation bill to collect and recycle light bulbs that contain mercury (compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs). Building off the success of Maine’s landmark electronic waste law, the new CFL bill directs light bulb manufacturers to share the costs and responsibility of recycling mercury-containing light bulbs. The bill’s passage will set a national precedent for other states to follow.
At one point during the legislative process, the bill appeared to be headed for a bitter partisan fight – with Democrats at the Natural Resources Committee supporting and Republicans opposed. That was not the outcome we were looking for, so we redoubled our efforts to talk with every Republican with the goal of building bi-partisan support.
That is when lobbyists representing the manufacturers expanded their ranks and pushed hard for a weakening amendment that would have completely gutted the bill and absolved manufacturers of all responsibility to collect the mercury. We worked with our friends in the retail community to get letters of opposition to the amendment. The manufacturers backed down off their amendment strategy, and focused instead on spreading false information about the bill – with the hope of delaying action until next year, so that “more studies” could be done. In other words: study the issue to death.
As the bill was about to head for a final vote, we knew it was make or break time, so we called in reinforcements: Sierra Fletcher from the Product Stewardship Institute, who co-chaired the national stakeholder group on mercury lamps recycling, and Michael Bender, from the Mercury Policy Project and chair of the Multi-state Mercury Campaign. Michael and Sierra drove up the morning before the committee vote, and we talked with swing committee members right up to the vote. We prepared documents the night before showing that the manufacturers have been pushing for delay and studies, studies and delay, around the country. “Anything but action,” has been their refrain.
The vote was taken, and we won with 12-1 vote out of committee, leading to a 130-13 victory in the house, and a near unanimous vote in the Senate.
We’re very excited about this victory. The Governor will hold a bill signing of the legislation next week – sending a clear message nationally – and globally – that a new day is dawning for total life cycle management and shared responsibility – from ‘the cradle to the grave’ for products containing mercury and other hazardous substances. This new law also sends a message to manufacturers that they need to assume their share of responsibility to reduce and wherever possible eliminate the toxicity of their products, and also to alleviate the increasing waste management cost burden on local governments.
We need to keep mercury and other hazardous materials in products out of the environment. This bill contributes to that goal.
NRCM appreciates the work of all the legislators who contributed to this victory, especially the bill’s sponsor, Representative Seth Berry from Bowdoinham, the lead co-sponsor, Senator Kevin Raye from Perry, and the two committee chairs, Representative Bob Duchesne and Senator Seth Goodall. They helped craft the final language that won overwhelming support in both Houses.
-Matt Prindiville, Toxics Project Director