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New York City’s Plastic Bag Fee Is Delayed Amid Scrutiny In Albany

- Sep 01, 2017 -

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ALBANY  — The yearslong debate over whether to impose a fee for plastic bags in New York appeared to come to a hard-fought end last month, when the City Council voted to charge 5 cents for most plastic and paper shopping bags.

But as with so much else in the city, the last word on the subject lies with the State Capitol, where hostility to the bag bill has threatened to undo, or at least revise, the fee.

A bill in the State Senate that would prohibit cities from imposing any “tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags” passed that body on Tuesday. A similar bill in the State Assembly seemed poised to follow until, later on Tuesday, the speakers of the Assembly and the City Council agreed to delay enacting the bag fee while city officials amended the city’s bill to the Assembly’s liking.

The fee will now go into effect in February and not in October, which allows the Council and the Assembly to “work together on a solution,” Michael Weyland, a spokesman for the Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, said on Tuesday.

Mr. Heastie, a Bronx Democrat whom the city can usually count on for a sympathetic ear, had said on Monday that others in his party were ready to exert the state’s power to change the bag policy. But the agreement on Tuesday seemed to avert the possibility of an outright rejection.

Continue reading the main story “I think there’s a concern amongst particularly the Assembly members who represent the city, on the language that’s in the City Council bill,” he said. “We have some issues with it.”

The city legislation is intended to encourage shoppers to give up the plastic bags whose omnipresence on city sidewalks and in city trees and landfills have long frustrated environmentalists. Charge a nickel, the thinking goes, and people will start using their own reusable bags.

In other cities with similar policies, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, plastic bag use has dropped sharply, the bill’s supporters noted. (There are a number of exemptions built into New York’s policy, including for plastic produce bags, and restaurant and street-vendor carryout bags.)

In a statement, Robin Levine, a spokeswoman for the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, said the Council looked forward to working with the Legislature to “greatly reduce the use of wasteful plastic bags in our city.”

Opponents of the measure, who include Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Michael Cusick, both Democrats, and the Democratic lawmakers from the city who jointly sponsored the state’s antifee bill, say that a plastic bag charge is a tax on poor and minority communities. Support for the city’s bill has also faced intense lobbying from plastic bag manufacturers.

“New York City is imposing on its residents an unjust and unfair tax — not a fee, a tax,” Mr. Felder, who caucuses with the Republicans, said during the Senate debate, adding, “It’s about time to respect our constituents who do not want to be driven crazy and nickeled and dimed every day.”

Mr. Felder’s bill would apply to all cities in the state, potentially affecting a handful of towns and counties that have considered policies designed to limit plastic bag use.

Debate over the bill was unusually fierce for the Council, a deep-blue body where consensus is far easier to find than division; the measure passed 28 to 20. In Albany, too, support for it was mixed, with Republicans and some — though by no means all — Democrats from the city insisting on reviewing the bill.

“It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that the State Senate would vote to mandate that New York City waste billions of plastic bags each year,” said Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors.


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