By Mark Hallum
Advocates for the elimination of plastic bags spoke out Tuesday against a moratorium signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo overriding the City Council’s law that would impose a fee on each bag used. Cuomo called the measure “deeply flawed” and got behind a motion by the state Assembly to block similar legislation until 2018.
The law would have had merchants charge five cents per bag for each transaction, a fee retailers would be free to pocket. The law passed the City Council in May by a 28-20 vote.
The New York League of Conservation Voters said concerns about the law were fair, but that the moratorium wrongfully delays any action on plastic bags.
“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. “Most objectionable is that the law was drafted so that merchants keep the five 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.”
He went on to say, “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; f 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 acknowledged the environmental implications of allowing unabated plastic bag use to continue by citing city Dept. of Sanitation estimates that it collects 1,700 tons of plastic bags per week, costing $12.5 million in annual disposal costs. about 23 billion bags are used statewide each week.
The Assembly passed the moratorium with 165 members in favor of blocking the law, and 32 in favor of letting it stand.
“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 no near-term solution to the very real problem of plastic bag waste,” NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn said in a statement Tuesday.
A Feb. 7 release from the league called on Cuomo to veto the Assembly’s moratorium saying it impeded the city’s ability to get a grip on plastic bag waste and sets a “dangerous precedent” of state overreach on local policy.
But although the bag law was passed at the city level, not all elected officials were satisfied with the legislation.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) welcomed Cuomo’s decision to support the Assembly moratorium, calling it a regressive tax which would be an unnecessary working families and seniors.
“The five cents collected per bag would not benefit the city or the environment, but instead go directly into merchants’ pockets. It is unfortunate that the state government had to get involved, but it was necessary,” Grodenchik said. “I will continue to fight to permanently block this tax. Surely there are better ways of achieving our shared goal of responsible environmental stewardship.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall