NYS debates the future of plastic bags



Daily Point

Paper or plastic with that?

One of the most fluid topics at this extremely fluid stage of Albany budget negotiations is a proposed ban on plastic bags.

While most everyone favors the ban itself, there is much debate about an accompanying 5-cent fee on paper bags. The general consensus is to let municipalities decide whether they want paper bags offered free of charge or to opt in to institute a fee. But while some negotiators want to give only counties the right to opt in, others say cities must be included as well to make sure that New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and others like Glen Cove and Long Beach have the option as well. And still others say if counties decide not to opt in, then the towns within those counties should have the option to opt in (as well as villages if the towns they are in do not).

Also being discussed is how to split that nickel between the state, local municipalities and/or stores, and how those shares can be spent (reusable bags, other environmental-related programs or other uses).

Environmental-minded lawmakers and advocates also were optimistic about getting approved a measure to reduce food waste and help feed the hungry by requiring big producers like hospitals, colleges and supermarkets to donate edible items to hunger-relief organizations and recycle the rest. It’s a plan Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo left out of his budget proposal after trying in vain to get it passed the last two years.

It’s also looking increasingly like the budget will include $500 million for clean water infrastructure, not the commitment for $2.5 billion over five years some advocates had been pushing. And Cuomo’s plan to use Environmental Protection Fund money to pay for staffing was still on the table, despite legislative opposition.

But the biggest environmental surprise might be that climate change, as one insider put it, “is apparently back on the table as of 4 this morning.”

The debate, which played out in legislative hearings on the Climate and Community Protection Act held by Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s environmental conservation committee earlier this year, centers on which emissions-reduction goal to adopt and by when. One camp is arguing that the state should get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by a date certain, while the other camp says that is not doable and a better target is to be carbon-neutral by that date. One difference: the second goal allows for nuclear energy, the first does not.

The conversation got so hot so fast that several organizations — Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, National Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters and Audubon New York — quickly whipped up a letter Wednesday morning to lawmakers arguing for the carbon-neutral goal as a way to “address climate change in a bold, progressive, meaningful way that achieves durable, lasting change.”

If there’s one thing folks in Albany understand this time of year, it’s change.

Michael Dobie