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Source: Queens Chronicle

Cuomo blocks the bag bill; signs moratorium

Says plastic bags a statewide, not local issue; promises task force

BY MICHAEL GANNON

Posted: February 17, 2017
Originally Published: February 16, 2017

Gov. Cuomo has signed a moratorium that will prevent New York City from having stores charge a fee of 5 cents for most paper and plastic grocery bags customers use.

The city law, which was originally passed last spring, was to have gone into effect at 12:01 on Wednesday.

The bill Cuomo signed requires the City Council to pass the bag fee again if it wants to impose it after the moratorium ends.

Cuomo was known to be weighing the economic and environmental aspects of the state moratorium. He said he will call for a task force, with the help of legislative and community leaders, to arrive at a statewide solution on the ecological problems caused by disposable bags by year’s end.

“While there are no doubt institutional political issues at play, and while New York City’s law is an earnest attempt at a real solution, it is also undeniable that the City’s bill is deeply flawed,” Cuomo said.

“New York, like the rest of the nation, is currently struggling with the environmental impact of plastic and paper bag waste, particularly with a focus on plastic bags,” the governor said in a statement issued by his office on Tuesday afternoon,” calling it not a local issue but a statewide challenge. “As such, a statewide solution is the most appropriate way to address this issue,” he said.

Cuomo said plastic bags are convenient, but not without financial and environmental costs, quoting New York City Department of Sanitation estimates that it collects an average of 1,700 tons of plastic bags per week, costing $12.5 million annually in disposal costs. Statewide New Yorkers use an estimated 23 billion plastic bags annually.

“Most recently, New York City passed a local law that would impose a fee of at least five cents on all carryout merchandise bags,” Cuomo said. “The bill passed 28-20 — the closest of any vote taken in the last several years. Since the bill’s passage, the State Legislature moved swiftly and overwhelmingly to impose a moratorium on that local law, with a total of 165 members voting in support and 32 against.”

The margin in the Senate was 42-18, making an override a distinct possibility had Cuomo vetoed the legislation.

Reaction to Cuomo’s response was swift.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) praised the governor.

“I am so pleased to see that Governor Cuomo agrees with many of my constituents, who believe that there are far better ways to address the plastic bag issue than charging customers five cents to the benefit of the grocery stores,” Addabbo said.

In a joint statement, Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who wrote the bill passed by the City Council last year, and Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) expressed their disappointment.

“We fought plastic bags, and for now, plastic bags won,” they said. “They are stubborn and toxic forms of solid waste. They never biodegrade, so they pollute our trees, oceans, and landfills forever. And they are hard to dislodge from the State Legislature, too.”

They also said by nullifying only New York City’s law — but leaving nearly identical laws in Suffolk and Nassau counties intact –— the legislature has put in jeopardy the basic concept of “home rule.”

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said she was deeply saddened.

“Though we appreciate his obvious concern for the issue, there is now a law on the books that overturns the principle of home rule and leaves us with no near-term solution to the very real problem of plastic bag waste,” she said, adding that the league will hold Cuomo to his word to have a workable solution come from his task force.

Ted Potrikus, president of the 5,000-member Retail Trade Council of New York State, also thanked the governor in an emailed statement.

“We respect the complexity of the decision and we pledge to work constructively with him and with state lawmakers as they seek a statewide, comprehensive response to environmental concerns,” he said.

Adrienne Esposito, president of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which backed the city law, said they are looking forward to working with Cuomo and the task force to craft comprehensive regulations for plastic and paper.

“We’re willing to take one step backward to move two forward,” she said.