'Grand slam': From bag ban to water funding, NY budget boosts environment



Count New York environmental groups among those who are happy with the final 2019-20 state budget. 

One of the budget's main provisions is a ban on single-use plastic bags that will begin in March 2020. Several environmental advocates have called for a bag ban to reduce plastic waste. 

With passage of the state budget, New York is the second state to ban single-use plastic bags. 

There was strong support among Democrats for the plastic bag ban. While debating the budget Sunday, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky explained why the ban is necessary. Plastic, he said, is "really bad for the environment." 

Reports indicate that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually. The bags wind up polluting the environment — on land and in waterways — because they aren't biodegradable. 

Kaminsky acknowledged there may be an adjustment period because of how many plastic bags New Yorkers have used in the past. 

"They're versatile," he said. "They'll use reusable bags. Our environment in New York will be better." 

Environmental groups that pushed for the ban didn't get all of what they wanted. The ban on plastic bags is paired with a 5-cent fee on paper bags. The fee, however, is optional. Cities and counties may opt in and charge the fee on paper bags in their municipalities. 

Jeremy Cherson, legislative advocacy manager for Riverkeeper, urged cities and counties to adopt the fee. 

"We encourage local governments to opt-in to the critical fee on paper to help ensure communities have policies on the books that will encourage consumers to use reusable shopping bags," he said. 

Other measures in the budget earned praise from environmentalists. The state will provide $500 million for water infrastructure. This is in addition to the state's $2.5 billion commitment to fund clean water projects. 

The funding will support projects to ensure clean drinking water. Pollution in many areas of the state have affected drinking water supplies. In central New York, harmful algal blooms have threatened the Finger Lakes, including Owasco and Skaneateles lakes. The lakes provide drinking water to the cities of Auburn and Syracuse, respectively. 

The budget contains $300 million for the state Environmental Protection Fund — maintaining record state support for various capital projects, such as farmland conservation, restoring habitats and sewage treatment plant upgrades. 

The spending plan also establishes an organic recycling program for food waste. When possible, food will be donated to serve those in need. If the food is no longer edible, it will be transferred to anaerobic digesters for energy production. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called the environmental provisions of the budget a "grand slam."

"Addressing the plastic pollution crises and implementing food waste recycling are programs that demonstrate New York is leading by providing a path forward in our nation for a cleaner future," Esposito said.