Benefit environment, not merchants


Gov. Andrew Cuomo last Tuesday sided with the overwhelming majority of Albany lawmakers and signed a bill to block the deeply flawed New York City disposable bag fee. 

The move placed a one-year moratorium on an outlandish 5-cent bag fee, leaving ample time for myself and my colleagues in both houses to hammer out a plan to address the state’s environmental concerns without unfairly burdening vulnerable New Yorkers. 

Proponents of the city bag law will surely cry foul, arguing the bag fee must be implemented yesterday in order to protect the environment. I won’t deny that disposable bag use, namely plastic, must be diminished, or potentially even banned outright. They hamper both our environment and the Sanitation departments tasked with properly disposing of them. 

But there’s a reason the city bag law hit a roadblock in Albany.

The bill was littered with enough loopholes and red flags that 165 members of the Senate and Assembly opposed its current form.  

My main concern, echoed by Gov. Cuomo, is where the proposed 5-cent fee would end up — the pockets of the merchants. 

That proposition is outrageous. Charge the people and pad the pockets of store owners to the tune of $100 million annually. 

Talk about short-sighted, half-baked policy. Address one issue, the environmental impact, while bypassing the state to create a brand new catastrophe with a loosely veiled tax in the form of a fee that fails to boost environmental conservation. 

Thankfully this crucial issue is now in the good hands of the state, where I will work tirelessly to help develop a cohesive, impartial solution. 

For starters, how about an obvious alternative that tackles the whole purported point of the fee, which is environmental protection. 

If some type of fee is deemed necessary, let’s at least set up a bag fee fund. One where the proceeds are directed to establish eco-friendly solutions. 

We should also consider implementing an all out disposable bag ban. 

If we can supply New Yorkers with reusable bags at no cost—an idea floated by Gov. Cuomo—such a ban would appease everybody. 

There are many more common-sense options in lieu of the failed city bill that I will explore, propose and ultimately deliver on. 

Environmental protection is not something I take lightly. 

Look no further than the IDC’s Changing New York Agenda for proof. 

This year we introduced the Strategic Water Safety Initiative, which addresses New York’s crumbling and contaminated drinking water supply systems.

We also introduced legislation to adopt into state law the federal EPA’s list of unregulated water contaminants.

Such a measure would open up state funding for small municipalities, like Hoosick Falls, to test for unregulated contaminants in their drinking water supply systems. 

A very similar proposal was later included by Governor Cuomo in his executive budget. 

Last year Sen. Diane Savino boldly tackled climate change in New York, proposing a sweeping bill that consists of numerous measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The disposable bag scourge is no joke, and I look forward to this time next year, at which point state policy will be proposed to finally settle the issue.

Jeffrey Klein is a New York State senator. His northwest Bronx district includes Riverdale and parts of Kingsbridge.