Brooklyn pols differ on Cuomo plastic bag fee move

Governor establishing task force to develop new plan

February 15, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shoppers won’t have to pay five cents for plastic bags at the supermarket, now that Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation to stop the city from imposing the fee. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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Lawmakers on both sides of the issue spoke out in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision Tuesday to back the state Legislature’s move to stop New York City from imposing a fee on shoppers using plastic bags at retail stores.

“I would like to thank Gov. Cuomo for responding to the concerns of the people and signing the bill to get rid of the 5 cent bag tax,” said Assemblymember William Colton.

Colton (D-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) also praised an announcement by Cuomo that the state will establish a task force to develop plans on how to deal with discarding plastic bags. “I am pleased that we will now be able to address the environmental issue without burdening those who can least afford it. I look forward to working to bringing a new solution in order to protect our environment,” Colton said.

The 5-cents-per-plastic-bag fee, which was first approved by the City Council last year, was set to begin Feb. 15. Under the city’s plan, the merchants would have kept the 5 cents charged for each plastic bag. But earlier this month, both the state Senate and Assembly approved legislation aimed at stopping the city.

City councilmembers Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) and Margaret Chin (D-Chinatown), the original sponsors of the plastic bag bill, issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment with the latest turn of events.

“We fought plastic bags, and for now, plastic bags won,” the two lawmakers stated.

Plastic bags are bad for the environment, Lander and Chin stated. “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,” the councilmembers stated.

Cuomo called the city’s legislation “deeply flawed” and said the state needs to come up with a better solution.

“Most objectionable is that the law was drafted so that merchants keep the 5 cent fee as profit, instead of the money being used to solve the problem of plastic bags’ environmental impact; essentially amounting to a $100 million per year windfall to merchants,” the governor said in a statement.

“There are two possible rationales for New York City’s bill providing the fee to profit the merchants: political expediency or legal impossibility. If the council needed the political support of the merchants to pass the bill, a $100 million price was too high a cost to pay. If the city was not empowered to allow a fee to go to a government entity as it exceeds their legal authority, then that necessitates state action. In either case, the windfall profit to private entities is unjustifiable and unnecessary,” Cuomo stated.

The New York City Department of Sanitation collects an average of 1,700 tons of plastic bags each week, according to Cuomo, who said it costs $12.5 million annually to dispose of the bags. In New York state as a whole, 23 billion plastic bags are used and discarded annually.

The governor added that the task force he is forming will get to work quickly because time is of the essence.

“This task force will be different than usual, as this matter requires expeditious action. I will ask the Senate and the Assembly to appoint co-chairs with me so that the recommendation can be quickly legislated. Local governments and stakeholders will also be included. By the end of this year, this task force will conclude with a report and proposed legislation,” he stated.


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