A federal magistrate has rejected an industry challenge to a Maine law requiring automakers to pay a $1 bounty for mercury switches recovered from their vehicles and to establish consolidation centers to collect the switches.
The 2002 law is constitutional, ruled U.S. Magistrate Margaret Kravchuk of Bangor, Maine.
The decision marks a defeat for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which sued the state's Department of Environmental Protection to strike down the law.
Alliance spokesman Charles Territo said the organization has filed objections to Kravchuk's ruling with U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, who will review her decision. Maine is the only state with such a law, he said.
But Peter Brann, a Lewiston, Maine, lawyer who represents environmental groups, said if the law remains, "other states will be interested in following suit."
According to the decision, the alliance claimed the law impedes interstate commerce, imposes unfair or unreasonable financial burdens on its members and is "blatantly protectionist and discriminatory because financial burdens are being imposed on automakers to subsidize participants" in Maine's end-of-life vehicle industry.
There was no dispute that mercury, used in light switches under hoods and in trunks until last year, is toxic and, if released, can endanger human health and the environment.
The magistrate noted that automakers pay consolidation centers in Bangor and Portland $2 per switch, the dollar required by the law and another dollar to cover the centers' administrative costs. The alliance said its members spent about $200,000 in startup costs and estimated annual costs of $120,000.
Kravchuk said the law does not impose an excessive burden on interstate commerce. She questioned the alliance's cost estimates but said even if its figures prove accurate, the expenses are shared among General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler, the alliance members that pay the bounty.
She also said the legislature acted reasonably in encouraging the state's 700 to 800 dismantlers to comply with mercury recycling laws by using the per-switch payments as "carrots."
Said Territo: "Existing laws at the federal and state level already regulate the handling and disposal of mercury-containing switches."
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