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Source: Queens Chronicle

City Council is left holding the bag

Nickel fee startup moved from Oct. to Feb. as state Senate passes ban


Posted: June 10, 2016
Originally Published: June 9, 2016

A vote in the state Senate on Tuesday sent the City Council scrambling to delay implementation of a 5-cent fee on most single-use grocery bags by four months.

The Council last month passed its bag bill with the aim of removing billions of the plastic bags per year from the city’s waste stream, streets, trees and storm drains with a projected cost savings of more than $12 million.

Proponents, citing similar bills in other cities, said the fee would encourage or even annoy people into bringing reusable bags for their shopping.

Critics said that the nickle fee would add up, disproportionately harming low-income residents, though lawmakers did carve out exceptions for shoppers using food stamps or programs like WIC to pay for their food.

The Senate passed a measure that would ban municipalities across the state from mandating fees for the bags.

Under the city bill, store owners would keep the fee, as turning the money over to the city would have amounted to a tax that would have to be approved by the Legislature and Gov. Cuomo.

The fee was scheduled to take affect on Oct. 1. But passage of the Senate bill had the Council push back the start time until Feburary.

Published reports said Council leaders and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) will use the time in an attempt to hammer out a compromise.

Cuomo, speaking in Poughkeepsie on Monday, said he had not gone through the Senate and Assembly bills yet.

The Chronicle was unable to reach Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), a strong proponent of the Council’s bag bill.

Richards, citing the big picture, has said the environmental benefits are worth the nudge that might be created by the fee. Speaking to the Chronicle in May he compared the change favorably to parking tickets or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s recent $1 fee on new MetroCards,

On a far more parochial level, he represents one of the three communities in the city that combine to handle about 80 percent of the city’s daily haul of trash and refuse.

He said anything that will reduce the tonnage and number of trips through those neighborhoods is welcome.

The Council apparently did not need or did not want the Assembly to take up a companion bill that had wide backing in the Queens delegation.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the Senate bill, aside from stopping fees, would mandate plastic bag recycling sites in certain stores.

“When it comes to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ we are supposed to be reducing our city’s waste, not our residents’ bank accounts,” Avella said in a statement from his office.

“Fees to use plastic bags would cost our city’s families, while failing to increase the recycling of those bags,” he added. “That is why I am proud to pass my legislation, along with my Senate colleagues, to increase awareness of plastic bag recycling programs already in place, and encourage the return of all plastic bags, not just those used at grocery stores. This bill will increase recycling without hurting New York’s low-income families.”

In a statement, Citizens Campaign for the Environment expressed its disappointment.

“As good bills that would protect children’s health and safeguard clean water languish in the Senate, our Senators chose to move forward with damaging legislation that hurts our environment and flies in the face of home rule,” said Adrienne Esposito, the statewide group’s executive director.