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Gov. Cuomo Kills Plastic Bag Fee, Calling it 'Deeply Flawed'

By Leslie Albrecht | February 14, 2017 6:04pm | Updated on February 15, 2017 11:18am
 A student at Park Slope's M.S. 51 wore a costume made of plastic bags during a school science expo to raise awareness about their impact on the environment.
A student at Park Slope's M.S. 51 wore a costume made of plastic bags during a school science expo to raise awareness about their impact on the environment.
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Jody Reiss

PARK SLOPE — Gov. Andrew Cuomo dashed environmental advocates' hopes of ridding the city of plastic shopping bags Tuesday by signing a bill that blocks a 5-cent fee on the bags.

The City Council approved the fee on plastic bags last year and it was supposed to go into effect Wednesday, but the Senate and Assembly both voted to halt the fee in recent weeks.

Cuomo could have vetoed the Legislature's move, but opted instead to let the fee die, calling it a "deeply flawed" plan in a lengthy statement released Tuesday.

Cuomo noted New York State's long history of environmentalism in his statement and said he’s often reeled in plastic bags while fishing and seen the bags snagged in trees while hiking in the Adirondacks. But he said he couldn’t support the bag fee for several reasons.

The governor said the city’s bag fee law was "an earnest attempt at a real solution" but objected to giving the fee to store owners, calling it an unjustifiable and unnecessary $100 million windfall for merchants. Cuomo suggested that money could be better spent on solving the problem of the bag’s environmental impact.

He likened the plastic bag fee to the state's early attempts at collecting deposits on bottles, which he said cost the state $1.6 billion in revenue until 2008, when the law was changed to funnel deposit money to state coffers to pay for environmental improvements.

Cuomo also objected to some businesses being exempted from the 5-cent bag fee, including liquor stores, delivery people and food trucks.

Cuomo said he'll form a statewide task force to come up with a plan for addressing the "plastic bag problem."

Three state lawmakers announced Wednesday morning that they'll introduce a new plastic bag bill that would give consumers an "instant refund" of 3 cents every time they opt to not use a plastic bag. Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, Senator Marisol Alcantara and Senator Ruben Diaz said they would unveil their plan on the steps of City Hall at 2 p.m.

New York City spends $12.5 million year sending some 9.37 billion bags to landfills, according to City Councilman Brad Lander, who co-sponsored the city's bag fee bill along with City Councilwoman Margaret Chin.

Lander and Chin said in a joint statement Tuesday that they were disappointed by Cuomo's move to kill the fee, noting that the fees have dramatically reduced bag use in other cities.

"Despite this loss, we are proud of the coalition we have built, which took the issue of plastic solid waste — over 9 billion plastic bags every year, adding up to 91,000 tons of solid waste, trucked through our neighborhoods to landfills, polluting our trees, parks, and oceans along the way — and raised it to the very highest levels of New York State government,” Lander and Chin said.

"Someday, not soon enough, but someday, we will win action to get rid of them."

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn issued a statement saying he agrees with Cuomo and that a new effort is needed. "I am 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," he said Tuesday.