Government

DNR rejects grocers' petition, sending bottle bill back to Iowa Legislature

Tori Clair (right) of Shellsburg, Iowa, and Cynthia Vaughn of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sort aluminum cans as they move along
Tori Clair (right) of Shellsburg, Iowa, and Cynthia Vaughn of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sort aluminum cans as they move along a conveyor at the Can Shed, 4121 16th Ave SW, in southwest Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday rejected the grocery industry’s petition for a ruling that supporters of Iowa’s beverage container redemption law said would gut a major consumer protection provision of the state’s 41-year-old bottle bill.

In doing so, the Department of Natural Resources threw the issue back into the hands of the Legislature, where lawmakers have considered plans such as merely tinkering with the 5-cent deposit on carbonated beverage containers, expanding it to include water, sports drinks and other beverage containers or repealing it entirely.

Legislative interest in the issue played a role in her decision not to grant the declaratory judgment sought by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, which argued that the DNR has not uniformly applied so-called “convenience standard” to approve or deny retailers’ requests to be relieved of the responsibility of redeeming containers if they are within a 10-minute one-way drive of an alternative redemptions center.

In her decision, DNR Director Kayla Lyon said that because the issue raised by the grocers is within the jurisdiction of the Legislature, agency rule-making is inappropriate. She noted that at least three bills addressing the bottle bill were introduced this year.

“Even if deference to the Legislature on pending matters was not an expectation, given the fact that the Legislature is considering significant alterations to the underlying statute — including changes that would specifically address concerns raised in the petition, it would seem prudent for the DNR to wait on legislative action before taking any unilateral action,” Lyon wrote.

The DNR has been using the “convenience standard” for 40 years. In their petition to the DNR, the grocers asked for a declaratory judgment on whether the agency has the right to enforce the 10-minute convenience standard, arguing that “the rights of (association) members have been increasingly disregarded.”

Earlier this year, the IGIA petitioned the DNR to establish a “convenience” standard that would relieve grocers from the responsibility of redeeming containers if there was a redemptions center within a 15-mile, one-way drive.

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The grocers’ petition was opposed by Cleaner Iowa, a nonprofit representing recyclers and others who support the bottle bill, which was adopted as an anti-litter measure. Over the years, it has been credited with keeping Iowa’s outdoors relatively free of discarded beverage containers.

In rejecting the petition, Lyon noted that although Iowa Code requires the agency to approve redemptions center if they “will provide a convenient service to consumers,” the Legislature never defined “convenient service. Based on nearly identical language adopted by the Environmental Protection Commission, the DNR has “determined that a 10-minute round trip for the consumer is a reasonable benchmark when assessing whether a redemption center will provide a ‘convenient service to consumers’ who will use the redemption center instead of returning bottles or cans to the dealer’s facility.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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