WASHINGTON — A change of California's governorship from a Republican to a Democrat and renewed activism from some state agencies mean that 1999 is likely to see more attention given to environmental issues.
But put that into perspective: 1998 was a quiet year for the industry's political issues. And the turmoil from President Clinton's impeachment could leave Washington unable to make much headway on issues that matter more to the industry's pocketbook.
In California, new Gov. Gray Davis takes over in the midst of a debate about extending the state's recycling laws and expanding bottle deposits for 20-ounce soft drink containers, sport drinks and other popular containers.
The industry opposes that, but legislation that passed the General Assembly last year and was then vetoed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson would have increased deposits on 20-ounce containers.
The debate picks up again there this year, except that environmental organizations have more political clout, and industry groups desperately need to pass a law that renews the state's complicated recycling funding program, or their members' costs could rise dramatically.
``There [are] the best prospects since 1991 for significant progress,'' said Lance King, spokesman for the Grassroots Recycling Network, an Athens, Ga.-based environmental organization.
``California will be our greatest challenge,'' said Roger Bernstein, vice president of government affairs for the Washington-based state-government unit of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Plastics Council.
``It is a state that has been the most volatile on packaging issues, and in light of the complete Democratic realignment from the governor to the legislators, we think proponents of restrictive legislation'' will have more influence.
The plastics industry wants to get several grocery chains in the Sacramento and San Francisco area to do in-store promotions telling consumers they can recycle containers like laundry detergent bottles, he said. The promotions may not take place, but APC looks at it as a way to boost recycling, Bernstein said.
Local officials across the country also are getting more interested in the producer-responsibility concept, a broad-ranging idea popular in Europe that means manufacturers have to take more responsibility for product disposal.
That can range from deposits on containers to more elaborate requirements such as making consumer electronics and automobile makers responsible for their products' disposal, rather than local governments and landfills.
Minnesota is drafting producer-responsibility legislation. Industry sources claim such laws are being actively considered, even if passage is not expected.
The Municipal Waste Management Association, an arm of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, also is looking at the topic. It is spurred, in part, by packaging. For example pigmented, high density polyethylene milk bottles boost sales but are much less valuable to recyclers, said Karen Luken, co-chair of MWMA and manager of the Hamilton County Solid Waste District, which includes Cincinnati.
``The municipalities are saying, `Wait a minute, if you guys are getting a marketing advantage, you should bear some responsibilities as well','' she said. ``We don't know how much support is out there — it's a totally new approach for looking at our waste management system.''
But the Environmental Protection Agency does not support producer responsibility mandates, preferring voluntarily efforts, EPA officials have said.
GRRN expects to release a report that gives details about federal subsidies of $3 billion a year to virgin material industries like oil and timber, King said.
Georgia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania also are expected to be states where bottle-bill debates could crop up again.
Kentucky's Legislation, which has the support of House Majority Leader Rep. Greg Stumbo and some of the state's leading newspapers, is picking up support, according to a National Soft Drink Association newsletter. But the coalition against the bill remains strong, said E. Gifford Stack, vice president of environmental affairs for Washington-based NSDA.
Kentucky's Legislature does not meet in 1999, but a task force is expected to deliver a report.
In Washington, the impeachment debate will make government business more difficult, even if Clinton's fate is settled quickly, said Lew Freeman, SPI's vice president of government affairs.
Industry issues in Congress will be similar to last year, he said. That includes rail regulation, which could take years to get payoffs, global climate change, possibly revisiting some clean-air standards, regulatory reform, fast-track trade authority and more solid funding for faster food-packaging approval provisions.