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‘People Will Wonder Why We Didn’t Do This Sooner’: New York Becomes Second State to Ban Plastic Bags

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A man holds a plastic shopping bag in New York's Central Park. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Corbis via Getty Images

New York State lawmakers agreed to a ban on single-use plastic bags Sunday, making the Empire State the second in the nation to do so.

The decision was part of a $175.5 billion budget agreement that included other progressive measures including the elimination of cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent crimes, three-hours-off on election day for voting and the nation's first-ever congestion pricing program in the busiest part of Manhattan. The budget was expected to be passed in a series of bills during a session Sunday that could carry into Monday, the Associated Press reported.

"I am proud to announce that together, we got it done," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said of the budget, according to the Associated Press.


The plastic bag ban will go into effect March 1, 2020. Counties and cities will have the option to charge customers five cents for paper bags. Two cents would then go to a fund to help low-income customers buy reusable bags and three cents would go to the state's Environmental Protection Fund.

In passing the ban, New York follows California, which was the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags in 2016. In Hawaii, they are also effectively banned since every county in the state prohibits them.

"I think we'll look back in a few years and people will wonder why we didn't do this sooner," Democratic Nassau County State Senator Todd Kaminsky, who sponsored the bill and chairs the environmental conservation committee, told The New York Times.

The ban comes after several failed attempts to manage plastic bags in New York. In 2017, Cuomo signed a bill that blocked a New York City plan to charge five cents for plastic bags. Last year, a similar, state-wide ban was blocked by Republicans in the state Senate. But Democrats picked up eight Senate seats during the 2018 midterm elections, gaining a majority and making the ban possible.

"I'm looking forward to it. I've been waiting for it for a long time. I'm tired of having to recycle them," Midtown resident Louise Sharakan told CBS2 of the upcoming ban.

However, not all New Yorkers are pleased, as this interview shows:

"I hate it. I use them all the time, believe it or not, in my apartment. I don't have a space for garbage. I hang them by the door and I use them for garbage," said Midtown resident Glen Wiehl.

"So what are you going to do?" CBS2's Marcia Kramer asked.

"I'm stocking up now," he said.

The most controversial part of the ban has proved to be the optional paper bag fee. Some environmentalists think it should not be optional, since it could result in shoppers simply using paper bags instead of purchasing reusable bags.

"New York had a chance to show real leadership and came up short," Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz told The New York Times.

Business groups, who were critical of the ban in general, thought some of the fee should have been directed back to the stores to help with implementation costs.

"The failure to give even a portion of the 5-cent fee back to the stores, makes this an untenable mandate for many of our members who operate within finite profit margins," Food Industry Alliance of New York State President Mike Durant told The New York Times. "We are disappointed that the Legislature did not consider this alternative and failed to hear the concerns of the business community."

The ban includes exceptions for takeout, dry cleaning, bulk and deli items, newspapers and bags like garbage bags bought in bulk.

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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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