Dubie breaks tie in vote to ban mercury batteries

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(Host) Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie cast his first tie-breaking vote in the Senate on Wednesday to break a deadlock on a bill that regulates mercury. Dubie’s vote means that the legislation now exempts certain products from a proposed statewide ban on mercury. Those products use mercury batteries made in Bennington. And the lieutenant governor said he was concerned about jobs at the Bennington battery plant.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The bill would phase out a multitude of products that contain mercury, a poison that’s particularly dangerous for babies and young children. The legislation bans, for example, the sale of some mercury-containing thermometers, barometers, and other devices that measure blood pressure.

That part wasn’t controversial. But the Senate divided over a proposed ban on certain novelty items – toys and tiny flashlights – that use button-sized batteries that are made with mercury.

Bennington County Democrat Dick Sears said the bill could threaten 200 jobs at the Ever Ready Energizer plant in Bennington, where the batteries are made.

(Sears) “How do we explain to our constituents that 200 jobs just went to China? Think about that, Mr. President.”

(Dillon) But Senator Virginia Lyons, the Chairwoman of the Natural Resources Committee, said an Energizer official told her the bill wasn’t a big problem. Lyons pointed out that the bill wouldn’t ban the novelty items until 2011. That’s four years after the other mercury products would be banned. Lyons said that should give the Bennington plant time to develop alternatives to the mercury batteries.

(Lyons) “I did not get a sense from the representative from Energizer that this bill was going to threaten jobs.”

(Dillon) Lyons urged her colleagues to vote against the Sears amendment that would exempt the novelty products from the ban.

(Lyons) “The bill is our opportunity to comprehensively manage mercury in the environment.”

(Dillon) But when the vote was taken, the Senate was deadlocked 14 to 14. Lieutenant Governor Dubie broke the tie and sided with the exemption for products that use the Bennington batteries. In explaining his first tie-breaking vote, Dubie said he wanted to learn more about the potential effect on jobs.

(Dubie) “There’s some ambiguity in my mind whether there is an impact or there isn’t an impact on 200 jobs. And since the effectivity of that date was 2011, the chair is going to Bennington and would like your committee and would like this committee to continue the dialog and send the proper message.”

(Dillon) The bill comes before the Senate for final approval later this week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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