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December 31, 2012

Enviro groups snag state bill on mercury ban

BOSTON — Opposition from environmental groups is holding up a bill that would ban the sale of older mercury-filled thermostats and put restrictions on their disposal with just days remaining before a new Legislature get sworn in and the process to move a bill starts again.

Environmental groups think the bill is not strong enough, and fails give the state Department of Environmental Protection the authority advocates are seeking to force improvement in how mercury thermostats are collected.

The bill would prohibit the sale and installation of mercury thermostats and create restrictions for their disposal. Mercury thermostats would only be recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste.

“We have significant concerns. The bill is essentially a Trojan horse,” said Cindy Luppi, New England director for Clean Water Action. “It looks like it would do a good thing in establishing a collection program. But we already have a volunteer collection program and it has not been effective.”

Passed by the House in August, the bill came before the Senate twice last week only to have a senator object to taking any action on the bill, which is allowed during informal sessions.

First, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, objected; then, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, blocked a vote on the bill during last Monday’s informal Senate session.

Following that delay, Sen. Marc Pacheco gave a brief speech to a mostly empty chamber warning his colleagues that failure to act before Jan. 2 could result in a another two years going by with mercury thermostats continuing to pollute water streams.

“Two years from now we will probably be in a very similar situation. This reminds me of a classic thing that goes on here once in a while. This is the perfect being the enemy of the good,” Pacheco said.

The Taunton Democrat said passing the bill now will turn voluntary collections into a mandatory program that will give lawmakers and advocates data to study and recommend improvements to the law in the future.

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