China disputes Vermont computer recycling law

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(Host) Earlier this year, a Vermont legislator says she got an unusual message from a representative of the Chinese government.

China wanted to discourage Vermont from passing a law that requires computer manufacturers to pay for recycling old equipment.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Senator Ginny Lyons believes electronics products represent a threat to the environment.

Computer and television screens contain toxic materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium.

So Lyons introduced a bill this year that would require manufacturers to pay a fee to the state. The money would cover the cost of recycling those products when they wear out.

Lyons says she was surprised when she got a message from the Chinese government opposing the bill.

(Lyons) “In this case, the People’s Republic of China was asking us not to even consider the bill. I think that it is inappropriate for a foreign government to come in and try to influence our democratic legislative process.”

(Sneyd) Lyons says she got the communication from the Chinese government in April, when the Legislature was nearing the end of its session

She says she didn’t have time to deal with the issue at the time.

But since then, she’s done some research and learned that China was notified of the bill by U.S. trade officials.

Lyons has introduced a resolution with the National Conference of State Legislators. It condemns both China and the United States for interfering with individual state legislatures. The resolution says a Maryland state lawmaker had a similar experience.

(Lyons) “When we see that the discussion of trade begins to influence a conversation about public health and environmental protection, then we have concerns. The bill could have been about health care. It could have been about workers’ benefits. It could have been about any number of issues.”

(Sneyd) Neither the Chinese embassy in Washington nor U.S. trade negotiators could be reached for this story.

Senator Lyons says Vermont is the fourth state that’s had a similar experience.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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