Monday, October 20, 2014

10/9: Professor cited as expert was paid by bottle-law opponents

  • From MetroWest Daily News

  • By Colleen Quinn
    State House News Service 

    Posted Oct. 9, 2014 @ 3:49 pm
    Updated Oct 9, 2014 at 4:01 PM 

    BOSTON -- A Tufts University professor recently cited by bottle bill expansion opponents for his endorsement of an independent study of the proposal's impact was paid $7,000 by the ballot committee fighting Question 2.
    Backers of the ballot question that would add a 5-cent deposit to water bottles, juices, and other drinks are questioning the credibility of the professor, who agreed with a study that concluded the proposal would cost Massachusetts residents nearly $100 million annually.
    Environmentalists from "Stop the Litter - Yes On 2" campaign allege that the professor was paid by opponents to agree with the study.
    Nicole Giambusso, a spokeswoman for the "No On Question 2 - Stop Forced Deposits," acknowledged that economics professor Jeffrey Zabel was compensated by the campaign for his work, and approached to look at the study because of his expertise in environmental economics.
    "When the campaign approached him, he said something to the effect of 'I'm going to do an objective analysis' " Giambusso said.
    According to state campaign finance records, Zabel was paid $7,000 for campaign services by Goddard Gunster Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs and advertising firm. Goddard Gunster was hired by the No On Question 2 campaign, according to Giambusso.
    Backers of a ballot question to expand the state's 5 cent deposit on carbonated beverages to other types of beverages say it will increase recycling. Opponents of the idea have citied cost concerns over the years as they prevented the proposal from moving through the Legislature.
    Environmentalists say bottles without deposits are thrown away or become litter, and communities bear the burden and costs of cleaning them up. Opponents argue the deposit is an outdated, inefficient method of encouraging recycling, and will cost more than curbside recycling. They say deposits are the wrong approach to boost recycling.
    The study by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants estimated the cost of operating the expanded deposit program would be $68 million and estimated the state would collect an additional $27 million in unclaimed deposits.
    Opponents of the ballot question issued a press released last Thursday, a day after records show a payment was made to Zabel, highlighting his findings. "I've read Question 2, I've examined the research thoroughly, and I'm here to tell you: Question 2 might sound like a good idea initially, but a different story emerges when you delve into the economic and environmental costs and benefits," Zabel said in the release, which did not mention that Zabel was paid for his work.
    Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, said the No On Question 2 campaign has a credibility problem.
    First, the opponents' campaign said "something that was absolutely a lie" when they aired a television ad stating 90 percent of Massachusetts residents have curbside recycling, Domenitz said. Environmentalists dispute that statistic, and asked the no campaign to pull the ad from the airwaves. State environmental officials also agreed the statistic is too high, and the ad's sponsors recently amended the sourcing in the spot.
    • Now, Domenitz said, the campaign is trying to give credibility to the Northbridge study by highlighting the thoughts of an economics professor who was paid for his work by the ballot committee.
      "It turns out the professor has been paid by the American Beverage Association," Domenitz said, referring to the trade group that is helping financing the opposition campaign. "It is not Halloween yet, I don't know who they think they are trying to trick."
      Domenitz said voters need to know that 80 percent of the containers with the 5 cent deposit get recycled, while only 23 percent without the deposit get recycled.
      Zabel told the News Service that before he looked at the study, he believed the so-called bottle bill was a good policy. "But I was convinced otherwise after reading the report," he saidWednesday.
      "I went in with an objective viewpoint in terms of reviewing their analysis. I think that is the best way to go into these, and I came out with the view that the cost of the expanded bottle bill outweighed the benefits," he said.
      Zabel believes the proposal would likely only increase recycling by 1 percent.
      Zabel said he disagrees with the argument that his views are skewed because he was paid by opponents of the initiative petition. A professor at Tufts for 25 years, he said he has been hired by consulting firms to do peer reviews before, saying it is common practice. He has been paid to conduct research for the federal Environmental Protection Agency and to do peer review research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
      "People get paid for things all the time. Does that mean they are not credible anymore? Most people get paid to do their jobs," Zabel said.
      Phil Sego, an environmental advocate for the Massachusetts Sierra Club, said the study's authors, Northbridge Environmental, lobby for the beverage industry. Sego called the proclamations by Zabel "ludicrous."
      "I think $7,000 can buy you all kinds of things," Sego said.
      Sego said opponents of the deposit try to scare consumers that if the deposit is added to more drinks, manufacturers will raise prices. In other states with deposits, such as Maine, Michigan and Hawaii, product prices did not go up, according to Sego.
      "This is a scare tactic that they use," Sego said. "Who are you going to trust, Coke, Pepsi and Nestle, or are you going to trust the League of Women Voters?"
      The Massachusetts League of Women Voters supports expanding the bottle deposit law, calling it the "most successful recycling measure in the history of the state," on its website.

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