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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone along with the Albany blow-back against New York City’s pending five-cent fee on disposable bags, that had been vociferously championed by a group of legislators on both sides of the aisle from southwest Brooklyn.

On the afternoon of February 14, the eve of the legislation taking effect, the governor’s office sent out a press release that, while not explicitly stating that he would be signing the legislation, did announce that he was directing a task force to be put together to come up with a “statewide solution” to the issue, which has roiled both residents and conservationists.

“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,” said Cuomo in a statement. “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.”

The state Assembly on Monday, February 6 overwhelmingly passed a one year moratorium on the fee, 122-15, following on the heels of the State Senate, which voted to enact a moratorium in January. The governor has directed the task force to “conclude with a report and proposed legislation” by the end of 2017. This is the second delay for the city’s bag fee, which was passed 28-20 in the City Council, and which was initially supposed to go into effect last October.

Among the opponents to the fee was  Assemblymember William Colton, who applauded the governor for his decision. “I would like to thank Governor Cuomo responding to the concerns of the people and signing the bill to get rid of the five-cent bag tax,” he said. “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. ”

Other local opponents include Assemblymembers Nicole Malliotakis, Peter Abbate, Dov Hikind and Steven Cymbrowitz and State Senators Marty Golden and Simcha Felder.

Nonetheless, environmentalists are disappointed. Statistics indicate that New Yorkers throw away 10 billion plastic bags, amounting to 7,000 garbage truck trips to landfills, and costing New York City taxpayers more than $12 million every year.

Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, of Sunset Park, is one. While noting, “The governor made the right decision today when he approved legislation delaying New York City’s 5-cent bag fee,” he said he would be “introducing legislation this year to enact a complete ban on the use of recyclable bags by merchants throughout New York State. It’s the right thing to do to help the environment and to avoid placing any undue burden on taxpayers through bag fees.”

“We are deeply saddened that Governor Cuomo has signed the bill to nullify New York City’s fee on carryout bags,” added Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “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 with no near-term solution to the very real problem of plastic bag waste.

“We sincerely hope the City Council’s bold actions to reduce New York City’s waste stream do not end in vain,” Bystryn went on, stressing, “A task force that does not lead to a robust statewide law is not an acceptable consolation prize. The league looks forward to participating in the process and holding our state government accountable for enacting the best possible policy solution.”

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