Styrofoam magnate pokes holes in Bloomberg’s ban

Dart products. (via Dartcontainers.com)
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After a well-financed lobbying effort by a company that calls itself the "world's largest manufacturer of foam cups," the City Council has successfully pushed to water down a Michael Bloomberg-backed bill to ban the use of styrofoam in food establishments.

Dart Container Corporation, a company run by the controversial billionaire Kenneth Dart, has this year spent at least $120,000 lobbying against the proposed ban.

Dart has paid former councilman Ken Fisher of Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies $70,000 to lobby City Hall and the City Council on “Legislation Banning Polystyrene,” according to city records. It’s also paid Mercury Public Affairs $50,000.

It worked, apparently: Last week, the City Council inserted a one-year delay into the proposed styrofoam ban, giving the bill's opponents until 2015 to demonstrate the feasibility of recycling styrofoam instead.

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If, by 2015, the sanitation department determines that styrofoam recycling is, in fact, "environmentally responsible" and "economically practical," among other things, the department will launch a recycling program. If not, a ban on food establishments using styrofoam can go into effect.

"Dart did a pretty good job of getting to the members and saying these are the increased costs that are likely to occur," said a council staffer, adding that, "They made a conspicuous effort to go after members in the [Black Latino and Asian Caucus]."

Councilman Lew Fidler, the bill's sponsor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Every time we have done something like this we know special interests are going to fight it but the fact is this polystyrene foam is a devastating pollutant infecting our parks and waterways while never biodegrading and has been classified as a carcinogenic health hazard by the National Institute of Health,” said Bloomberg spokesman Jake Goldman, in an email.

The administration contends that styrofoam is harmful to the health of the workers who make it and to the environment that must ultimately absorb it, including animals who mistake it for food.

According to the city, more than 70 local jurisdictions in California, including San Francisco, have banned certain types of polystyrene, the material used in styrofoam.

The city contends that efforts aimed at recycling styrofoam have proven ineffective. Dart contends otherwise.

This afternoon, the Council will hold a hearing on the legislation.

In the mid-1990s, in an apparent bid to avoid taxes, Kenneth Dart, one of the heirs to the family fortune and a director on the company board, renounced his U.S. citizenship and acquired citizenship in Belize. Though he didn't live there.

After considering living on his yacht, "which he had armored to withstand torpedo fire," according to Bloomberg Businessweek, he moved to "a guarded compound in the Cayman Islands."

His brother Bob, who also renounced his citizenship, moved to London.

The magazine estimated their wealth at $4.4 billion.

"Belize promptly sought U.S. permission to open a consulate in Sarasota with Dart as its consul," reported the Los Angeles Times. "Foreign diplomats are exempt from U.S. taxes, so the move would have allowed Dart to avoid U.S. taxes while continuing to live here."

The State Department rejected the bid.

But, according to the Times, "Former President Clinton, who was in office when Dart renounced his citizenship, was so appalled by Dart's action that 10 years later he refused to go to a political fundraiser because it was being held at the Dart mansion, owned and occupied by Dart's wife."

In 1996, at the administration's urging, Congress passed a law to prevent similar actions on the part of other tax-averse wealthy people.

The Darts have had several run-ins with U.S. tax authorities, according to public records and published reports.

This spring, more than 50 Argentine tax agents raided Dart Sudamericana SRL’s offices in Argentina, in pursuit to evidence of tax evasion.

"It certainly doesn't help their employees in trying to hold themselves to as being trustworthy, but yes I've heard about that stuff," said the Council staffer.

"Dart began engaging the City Council because Ron Gonen‎ was misleading the Council Members about the fact that NYC's foam cannot be recycled," emailed Dart spokesman Michael Westerfield, referring to the head of the city's recycling efforts. "It can be recycled and Dart has offered to pay for it … amounting to a four million dollar upside to the city. This is why the ban bill has lost sponsors and it is also why the Mayor's office has introduced a last minute amendment. It's unfortunate that you are focusing on our efforts to inform members of the truth, rather than the substance of the arguments and what Dart is offering the City."

 

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