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Source: The Buffalo News

New York environmental groups push lawmakers to pass bill banning microbeads


Posted: June 11, 2015
Originally Published: June 10, 2015

The Microbead-Free Waters Act, a state bill banning micro-plastics in consumer care products, would appear to be a cinch to take effect Jan. 1, 2016. The math adds up.

It passed the Assembly 139-1. In the Senate, where 32 votes are needed for passage, it has 37 co-sponsors.

But state environmental groups are crossing fingers that one of their top legislative priorities isn’t washed down the drain of Albany politics for the second straight June when lawmakers end their session Wednesday.

What gives?

“The nature of Albany dysfunction has held it up,” said Brian Smith, associate executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

It’s why environmental organizations are girding for a final last-minute push on state lawmakers.

“Plastic microbead pollution is insidious – it doesn’t degrade like natural materials and persists for decades, if not centuries, in our environment,” said Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter. “Perhaps more insidious is the fact that we have a strong legislative solution to the problem, with majority co-sponsorship, that can’t get a Senate floor vote because of industry pressure and money.”

State Joint Commission on Public Ethics records show there might be something to that.

Lobbyists on the bill have represented Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Reckitt Benckiser, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Personal Care Products Council and others, the records show.

Last year, the Assembly and Senate couldn’t come to terms on the language of the law. This year, the bill, introduced by State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, rolled through the Assembly in April with near-unanimous support. Supporters charge the same bill would pass the Senate if brought to the floor just with its co-sponsors alone.

Instead, they allege, Sen. Thomas F. O’Mara, R-Elmira, who is chairman of the 13-member Environmental Conservation Committee, introduced a competing bill that critics regarded as a watered-down “pro-industry” mollification rife with loopholes. It almost received a vote on the Senate floor late last month before it was pulled when some senators threatened to attach the widely supported earlier bill as “a hostile amendment” during legislative debate on the issue.

At first glance the “pro-industry” bill may have “sounded good,” according to Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, but the devil was in the details.

It was liberal in defining microbeads under the law and allowed for biodegradable plastics, critics charged. They said further research showed that the plastics only broke down under 120-degree temperatures.

“That’s fine in a manufacturing plant, but it’s not fine in the waters of Lake Erie,” said Kennedy, who co-sponsored the Assembly bill in the Senate. “We have to take action immediately. The Senate has to take leadership and move this legislation immediately before the session winds down.”

News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report. email: tpignataro@buffnews.com