Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Stated Meeting: Wasting Electronics

After two years and tons of computers strewn to the curb, the City Council overwhelmingly approved legislation that requires manufacturers to recycle certain types of electronic waste.

Though ever member - besides the Republican minority - signed onto the legislation, the City Council is still staged for a fight over the measure with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who claims it is unconstitutional and plans to veto it.

On other fronts, Council Speaker Christine Quinn was confronted with rare opposition from the body's Brooklyn delegation, which opposed her selection to fill the city clerk vacancy. The council approved former Bronx County Clerk Hector Diaz by a vote of 34 to 16.

Bloomberg Trashes E-Waste

In 2009, when New Yorkers are looking to be rid of that rusty television or outdated Macintosh, they won't have to throw it by the curb -- somewhat guiltily -- knowing that toxins would leak into the soil at some out of state landfill. Under legislation (Intro 104-A) sponsored by Councilmember Bill de Blasio, manufacturers will be required to take back such electronic goods for recycling. The bill was approved at the council's stated meeting on Wednesday by a vote of 47 to 3.

The legislation is rolled out in several stages, with a waste management plan due this year. Manufacturers, like Apple, will be required to take back electronics on a one-on-one basis by July 2009. By 2011, manufacturers will be required to take back orphaned electronics of the same type. Eventually a manufacturer must collect 65 percent of goods that they sell, calculated by weight, or be subject to a $50,000 fine.

The legislation is the first manufacturer-required in the nation, said city officials, and has been endorsed by numerous environmental advocacy groups. The bill covers primarily computers and televisions, but not household appliances, like a washer or dryer.

"I would go down the street and see those computers on the curbside, and it would drive me crazy all the time," said de Blasio. "It felt like the most wasteful situation to begin with."

According to the council, nearly 25,000 tons of electronics are picked up by the city annually. Under this bill, the manufacturer is entirely responsible for the proper recycling of its electronics.

That has raised concerns within the Bloomberg administration. During his radio address on Friday, Bloomberg said he would not enforce the legislation if the City Council overrode his veto, which they have enough votes to do. Bloomberg claimed putting the onus on the manufacturer to recycle is illegal and illogical, since it is usually a wholesaler who sells to the public not a manufacturer.

“We will not enforce it,” he said. “And we don’t have to enforce it because it violates a whole bunch of federal laws on interstate commerce.”

Environmental advocates, though, were quick to contest the mayor's comments. Kate Sinding, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said several other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, have similar, producer responsible requirements, none of which have been found unconstitutional. Sinding said her group was prepared to do "whatever it takes" to ensure the legislation is implemented, including taking up the issue in court.

Political Patronage

Meetings were delayed for months regarding the selection of the city clerk, whose major responsibilities include keeping city documents, registration of lobbyists and oversight of the city's marriage bureau.

That tardiness was even more evident at the council's stated meeting Wednesday, when many members of the body remained behind closed doors in the basement of City Hall, reportedly debating what borough the city clerk should reside in: the Bronx or Brooklyn?

The most recent clerk, Victor Robles, was from Brooklyn, leading that delegation to lay claim over the position, which is primarily seen as political patronage. Diaz is a former assemblyman and has held the Bronx County Clerk position for 12 years.

Diaz will fill an unexpired term set to terminate in 2012. The position comes with a $185,700 salary.

This dispute, though many members referred to as amicable, is a rare one in the council, leading nearly a third of the body to vote against the selection (Reso 1276) of the City Council speaker.

During a meeting of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections, Brooklyn Delegation Chair Erik Dilan said, "Mr. Diaz, again, it has nothing to do with you. Myself, as well as the Brooklyn delegation, cannot support the nominee."

Quinn said the council would easily move past its disagreement to concentrate on issues of citywide importance, from health care to transportation. The council's division, though, was seen as a loss for Quinn, who must soon rally the body in one direction on congestion pricing, which she supports.

Cleaner Ferries

In addition to the e-waste legislation, the council also approved a bill that requires all city owned or leased ferries use low sulfur emission fuel. The bill, (Intro 168-A), sponsored by Councilmember Alan Gerson, was approved by a vote of 50 to 0.

The legislation will require ferries to switch to the cleaner technology by July. It also mandates the city retire older ferries that do not meet newer environmental standards.  

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