News & Politics

Albany Republicrats Gut NYC’s Bag Fee But City Readies For It Anyway

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As Albany moves to dismantle New York City’s five-cent fee on disposable bags at the behest of the plastics industry, environmental advocates are turning to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo as their last line of defense. So far, neither has stood up for the city’s law, which is set to take effect in less than a month.

Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill from Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn that would prohibit New York City’s fee from going into effect, but allow existing laws in smaller cities and towns to remain.

After the Senate vote, carried over the finish line by the Republicans in power and the “independent” Democrats who support them, all eyes have turned to Heastie, who brokered a deal in June to delay implementation of the city’s law from October until February 15.

Heastie’s sticking point is the section of city law that allows merchants to charge “at least” five cents for a disposable bag, instead of capping the cost. “Some of the language in the City Council bill is the challenge that we have,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “We’ve continued to discuss with the city on how to resolve it but we haven’t come to that point.”

Heastie did not rule out passing a companion to the Senate bill, which would strip the city of its ability to enact a bag fee.

The city is standing by its law, which hands revenue from the fee to retailers while exempting carryout bags and people receiving government assistance to cover the cost of groceries. “The Council passed a bill that struck the right balance,” said Raul Contreras, spokesperson for the mayor’s office. “This is the type of progressive and environmentally conscious action that helps create a more sustainable city. We are going to continue to work with our partners in the City Council and Albany on implementation of this legislation.”

Assembly members are meeting to discuss the issue today, environmental advocates say. “We’re hoping to to be able to stop it in the Assembly, but it’s going to be a big fight,” said Jennie Romer of the BagItNYC Coalition. “The plastics industry is definitely funding a lot of opposition through lobbying.”

As the legislature moves to dismantle a New York City environmental policy, Cuomo has been silent, to the frustration of advocates.

“He’s developed a relatively good stance with a lot of environmental groups in New York state and I think this would harm that,” Romer said. “His office has not made any statements, but it would make my day if they did.”

Asked for the governor’s view, Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi had a short reply: “We’ll review the bill if one passes the legislature,” he said.

Meanwhile, the bag fee passed by the city last year is still set to take effect February 15.

“Until it’s clear what’s happening, I think Albany is putting a cloud over the implementation of this bill,” said Councilmember Brad Lander, who sponsored the bag fee legislation. “The uncertainty created by what Albany is doing is not the best recipe for a good rollout.”

Regardless, the city is moving full steam ahead with implementation.

The city will soon send out the second and final mailer notifying all retailers of the bag fee, and the Department of Sanitation will be giving out 400,000 reusable bags, beginning this week with giveaways at 50 grocery stores in all five boroughs.

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