Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, Ulster County, speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol on Wed., March 27, 2019.
Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
New York appears poised to ban single-use plastic shopping bags and mandate a small fee for paper bags, with a final deal expected to be part of a $175 billion state budget due Sunday.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told reporters Wednesday he expects a ban on plastic bags to be part of the final budget.
But some details are still being negotiated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top lawmakers, including whether local governments should be able to opt out of the paper-bag fee and what to do with the money it generates.
Heastie’s comment came following a closed-door meeting with Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who are hoping to strike an agreement on other major budget issues and vote on a final package Sunday.
Lawmakers have a big incentive to approve the budget by Sunday, the deadline to have a spending plan in place for the state’s next fiscal year, which begins Monday.
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Ban has been discussed for years
Cuomo has pushed a ban on plastic bags since last year, arguing that plastic pollution is a scourge exacerbated by carryout bags at retailers.
Democratic lawmakers held a news conference Wednesday to promote the issue, though they were hesitant to discuss any specifics, including whether the paper-bag fee would be 5 or 10 cents and whether anyone, such as food-stamps recipients, would be exempted.
“This is a very common-sense thing we can do,” said Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, Ulster County. “They’re a total scourge. I was taking a bus recently and taking a look at all of the bags trapped in all of the trees along the shoulders. They’re everywhere.”
Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat who chairs the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, acknowledged that a local opt-out is under consideration, which would allow some local governments to decline to charge the paper-bag fee.
Cuomo’s original proposal, meanwhile, included certain exemptions, including newspaper bags and bags used for carryout food. It’s not clear whether those will make the final deal.
The plastic-bag ban and paper-bag fee have strong support from environmental groups around the state, many of whom gathered behind the senators at their news conference Wednesday.
The idea, they say, is to encourage people to use reusable grocery bags to cut down on waste and plastic pollution.
Sen. Pete Harckham, D-South Salem, Westchester County, speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol on Wed., March 27, 2019.
Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
Critics speak out
The food industry and business groups are pushing back, with the state Food Industry Alliance arguing that it will have “severe consequences.”
“What is reportedly being agreed to today…will impose significant new and unplanned costs on retail food stores,” Mike Durant, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “A plastic-bag ban with a fee on single-use paper bags is not a sustainable public policy solution.”
In a statement Wednesday, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, said the governor was “encouraged by the emerging consensus on this issue.”
Speaking to reporters Friday, Cuomo himself said his priority is “a ban on plastic” and said he was trying to negotiate an agreement on paper bags.
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“I’m trying to find a middle ground for everyone with the premise of a plastic-bag ban,” he said.
Sen. Peter Harckham, D-South Salem, Westchester County, said lawmakers shouldn’t bother returning to their districts if they can’t get a ban done.
“This is has been bandied about for years,” he said. “It’s too important.”
Stewart-Cousins said Cuomo and lawmakers are “close” on a deal on plastic bags.
“There has been a conversation that if you just ban plastic, then you’re flooded with paper and how does that resolve it,” she said. “So again, that is a conversation, and it is something that we are considering.”
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