Mayors’ Letter on Tar Sands Oil & Bottle Bill Lawsuit

  • State officials in Michigan want to crack down on people who smuggle cans and bottles across the state line for the deposit money. (Photo by Sarah Alvarez)

Mayors of nearly two dozen U.S. cities are urging the State Department to thoroughly study a proposed new oil pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil from northern Canada south to Texas. Lindsey Smith reports Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell signed the letter to the federal government:

In the letter, the mayors say they’re worried about the environmental impact of the pipeline. It would be built west of the Mississippi River – nowhere near Grand Rapids. But Mayor Heartwell says the location doesn’t matter so much to him.

“You know, the truth of the matter is we should all be concerned about any environmental damage anywhere in the world.”

The oil that would flow through the proposed pipeline would come from the same tar sands region of Alberta as the oil that spilled into the Kalamazoo River last year originated from.

FAQs about the bottle bill from the Department of Treasury

American Beverage Association

The Department of Environmental Quality’s Remediation Division


(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

(cans and bottles clinking)

We’re all used to hauling our bottles and cans back to the store to get our 10 cent deposits back. But not all bottles get returned. If they’re lost or recycled or thrown away… the money from the unclaimed deposits goes into a state fund used to clean up pollution. And now, a lawsuit might threaten this fund. Sarah Alvarez has more:

All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about 12 million dollars a year out of it.

A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.

With budget cuts, money for pollution cleanup is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.

“Well, the programs that are funding environmental cleanup no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs.”

The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible…They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.

You might remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan.

(Seinfeld clip)

The state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark. The state changed the bottle bill to require manufacturers to add the mark… and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.

The American Beverage Association is bringing the suit. Now, they didn’t return calls for comment on this story. But, they’ve told other media outlets that making special cans and bottles for Michigan will be expensive and they don’t want to do it.

Retailers are siding with the state in the suit. Mike Lashbrook is the President of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesaler Association.

“Well, you know, this issue, the fact that there is this smuggling that’s been going on, it’s not a joke like the Seinfeld episode. It is a major problem.”

He says retailers are also worried about losing money to bottle smugglers.

The state has already put a little over a million dollars into upgrading the bottle machines to read the special mark. If the Beverage Association wins their case the state will lose this money.

For the Environment Report, I’m Sarah Alvarez.

Rebecca: The case is now moving forward in federal court. State officials say they’ll continue to upgrade bottle return machines in counties along the Ohio and Indiana borders.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.