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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The State v. The Oregonian

EQC, DEQ reject The Oregonian's bullying

Newsprint manufacturers got flattened Friday when they tried to change Oregon's 1991 recycling rules so they wouldn't have to make the The Oregonian and other smaller newspapers more recycling-friendly. The state's Environmental Quality Commission, which oversees environmental rules in Oregon, unanimously rejected the request from manufacturers during a meeting in Salem.

But it's not the last word: A lobbyist for The Oregonian and its owner, the reclusive out-of-state billionaire media magnate Si Newhouse, said they'll turn to the Legislature for help. The Legislature is expected to consider revisions to Oregon's pioneering bottle bill.

The issue arose because Oregonians are recycling fewer newspapers, triggering state rules that force changes on manufacturers to help push the recycling rate back up. It's the first time since the state's recycling law was passed 16 years ago that the newsprint and magazine recycling rate has fallen below 25 percent.

That's in large part because people are reading The Oregonian less - its circulation is in steep decline - and are reading more magazines - like Si Newhouse's Condé Nast stable of glitz and glamor, high-chemical content titles that includes Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair. Magazines tend to be thrown away rather than recycled. Under Oregon's bottle bill, beverage containers that carry a deposit and are commonly recycled. But newsprint isn't covered by the bottle bill and often gets thrown away. Legislators have been considering bringing newspapers and magazines under the bottle bill by enacting a "News" or, more aptly, an "Ad" deposit.

Under state law and rules, manufacturers must make newsprint with more recycled paper content. But a coalition of 11 manufacturers groups, advertising associations and The Oregonian pushed back, petitioning the Environmental Quality Commission to change the state's definition of "recycled" so the new rules wouldn't apply.

They pointed to a failing of the recycling system: About one of every five pounds of paper picked up from curbside recycling bins - about 50,000 tons per year - never gets recycled because sorting machinery sends it to the wrong place, like the landfill.

Manufacturers wanted the recycled tally to include paper that people throw into recycling bins but never gets recycled. That would count the missing 50,000 tons and prop the official recycling rate up high enough that the new rules would no longer apply.

They also wanted permission to average the recycled content of all articles and ads, so that stories written from a "template" (in the same manner that this very story is about 90% recycled, see: here) would average out against so-called "original" writing. That would make it easier for them to meet an Oregon rule requiring newsprint sold in the state to include 25 percent recycled material.

But the state Department of Environmental Quality recommended that commissioners reject the industry petition as "Orwellian." State attorneys warned that the change the industry was seeking contradicts state law. Commissioners expressed some sympathy for manufacturers but agreed with the state that the change in rules would be "inimical to the welfare of a free society."

Fred A. Stickel, publisher of The Oregonian, was out-of-state and unavailable for comment.

The Oregonian, Feb. 24, By MICHAEL MILSTEIN

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