NYC’s pending five-cent plastic bag fee was approved by both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio last month, but now it may not happen. What began as an unpopular initiative has grown into a true controversy, with the political machine showing its muscle. After Albany lawmakers in the Senate approved a bill last week that would effectively create a statewide ban on any kind of bag fee or tax, the City Council has one last chance to revamp its measure into something the state Assembly might like. And, at least for the time being, the power is in the hands of a man who happens to be from the one borough that didn’t like the city’s bag fee, the Bronx. That man is Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
Last week, Albany lawmakers in the Senate approved a bill that would institute a statewide ban on any sort of plastic bag fee, tax, or charge, called for on any level. If that bill progresses through the Assembly and is signed into law, it would block any attempt on a county or city level, in addition to preventing business owners from charging for the bags. In his unique position in the Assembly, Heastie moved to help City Council members save the slightest modicum of face by delaying the already-approved bag fee, which would have gone into effect October 1, until a new version can be written. Heastie agreed to postpone the state Assembly vote on the ban until NYC comes forward with a different version of its bag measure.
In an attempt to find a middle ground amid the disagreements, the City Council is considering a refund program similar to the one in place for glass bottles. Rather than assessing a fee or tax on plastic bags at the point of purchase, shoppers could return used plastic bags to retailers to receive a five-cent refund on each bag. There are nearly as many voices in opposition to this proposal as there were to the initial measure, which should come as a surprise to nobody.
Amid the turmoil, it seems as though the objective of the original bill—to reduce the number of plastic bags used by New Yorkers each year—may have been lost, or at least muddled. What was once an environmental concern has now become a political power play. Although it’s possible that instituting a refund may help cut back on the percentage of bags that escape waste collection or recycling, logic suggests it wouldn’t be a drastic change. Each year, residents and visitors in the city use 9 billion single-use plastic bags and some green activists feel that any measure that prevents some of those bags from ending up in landfills and on city streets is a step in the right direction. Others, for somewhat obvious reasons, feel a refund program is just another complicated way to avoid the real issue.
The City Council has pushed back the five-cent bag fee from October to February 15, 2017, in order to allow time to rewrite the law into something that Heastie might find acceptable.
Via NY Post
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