By: Jim Rosenberg NATIONAL NEWSPAPER Association chairman Sam Griffin opposed an environmental consortium's backing of federal legislation requiring larger newspapers to use specified amounts of recycled newsprint. The Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and U.S. Public Interest Research Group urged the House Energy and Commerce Committee to support a proposal that requires newspapers with average daily circulations of 200,000 or more to use newsprint containing at least 35% recycled fiber. In its letter to committee members, the consortium said the current aggregate average recycled content of U.S. newspapers stands at 16%. Michigan Democrat John Dingell, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, offered the provision as an amendment to the interstate waste bill (H.R. 4779), which passed the Transportation and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee last month. The week after the subcommittee's vote, Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper asked Dingell to withdraw his mandatory recycling provision. While agreeing with its goal, Cooper said he believed the amendment would lead to increased publishing costs for small and medium-sized newspapers that use or wish to use recycled newsprint. He noted predictions that prices for recycled-content newsprint will be driven up by a demand that surpasses supply. The environmental groups, however, contend that the amendment will help strengthen markets for collected newsprint. To that end, it said, the National Conference of Mayors supports the Dingell amendment, in the expectation that it could help relieve local government of some it $1.5 billion in annual waste disposal costs. The consortium said the amendment was crafted to avoid imposing an "onerous" mandate, especially by exempting the smaller papers that contribute less to the waste stream, usually outside of major cities. Denying assertions that the provision would not adversely affect smaller newspapers, Griffin, publisher of the Bainbridge (Ga.) Post-Searchlight said, "The environmental groups are seriously misleading Congress if they are pretending that newsprint mills are going to restructure themselves to make one kind of newsprint for big papers and another kind for small papers." In a prepared statement, Griffin said mandating fiber content will "funnel old newspapers into regulated instead of free markets," "inevitably" increasing production costs. Resulting higher prices will especially burden smaller papers, which lack their larger counterparts' bargaining power. Writing to Representative Blanche Lambert last Thursday, Newport (Ariz.) Daily Independent publisher Bill Park said his and the six other community papers produced in his plant have been printed on recycled stock since October. "We were fortunate to have found a mill that was able to supply us with 100% recycled newsprint at a price that we could afford," Park wrote, adding that if the mill "finds it necessary to redirect their newsprint to larger newspapers, then [our] efforts . . . have been in vain." Saying community papers do their share to recycle newspapers and use recycled newsprint, NNA's Griffin expressed disappointment with the environmental groups ? "the very ones who encouraged us to act voluntarily." In his letter to Dingell, Cooper said newspapers had achieved "one of the best recycling records of any industry" and that "voluntary effortrs and free-market competition are achieving the goal" sought by Dingell's amendment. "The public is tired of these excuses," said Jan Beyea, National Audubon's chief scientist, who told E&P that he disagrees with Griffin's assessment of the amendment's impact. "Actually, the economics of certain kinds of newsprint will improve for the small papers," said Beyea. "There will be then a niche market for virgin paper, and the price will drop [with] demand . . . because the larger papers have to go after the recycled newsprint." Beyea added: "If he is right, which I don't believe, there are additional exemptions that can be carved out for the smaller papers." The American Forest & Paper Association recently released figures that show the recovery rate of old newspapers grew from 30.3% in 1985 to 58% in 1993. The recovery rate made its biggest gain when total newsprint supply declined by almost a million tons in 1991. The rate fell only in 1987. Last year's 58% represented a substantial rise in recovery because the total newsprint supply for 1993 was virtually the same as in 1985.