UPDATE: The New York State Assembly voted by a large margin on Feb. 6 to delay the implementation of New York City's 5-cent plastic bag fee until at least 2018. A similar bill was also passed by the state Senate earlier this week and the final decision now rests with Governor Andrew Cuomo. He has taken no public position on the issue and is currently reviewing the bill, as reported by Spectrum News NY1.
The potential effects on low-income residents, and the fact that stores would be allowed to keep the fee, were cited as some of the main oppositions to the fee by state legislators. The need for more time to review the issue was also raised, though it has not been made clear how this would differ from the years of review that have occurred since the city bill was introduced in 2014.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie offered his justification for the delay in a statement after the vote, saying that this was not the end for a potential solution.
"It makes sense to press the pause button on this fee in order to do a more thorough investigation on the best ways to reduce paper and plastic waste in our environment,” Heastie said. “Over the coming months we will work with environmental advocates, community groups, the public, and our partners in government to develop a solution that works for everyone.”
Council Members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, the city bill's original co-sponsors, released a statement shortly after the vote.
"We are disappointed that the Assembly decision to ignore the unified voice of New York’s environmental, climate justice and neighborhood groups -- at the very moment the federal government is rolling back environmental protections. We appeal to Governor Cuomo to help us reach a compromise that would allow New York City to try out this effective, common-sense strategy for dealing with the 10 billion plastic bags that pollute our trees, oceans and landfills every year."
The local law is technically still set to take effect on Feb. 15 pending Cuomo's decision and details are being publicized on the Department of Sanitation's website.
- A new set of bills has been introduced at the state level that would delay implementation of New York's 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags until at least 2018, as reported by the New York Daily News. The state Assembly intends to pass a bill on Feb. 7. The Senate passed similar legislation last month and is expected to support this new bill.
- The city's policy is currently set to take effect on Feb. 15. This bill would put a 270-day moratorium on any regulation that requires a fee for "carryout merchandise bags" and would require the New York City Council to re-authorize, modify or repeal its original 2016 local law. The earliest this vote could occur would be January 1, 2018.
- A group of council members, state legislators and environmental advocates gathered at New York City Hall on Feb. 5 for a last-minute rally to oppose the bill. Mayor Bill de Blasio has also spoken out in support of the bag fee.
Coming off a loss in the expensive fight to overturn California's statewide bag ban regulations last fall, bag proponents have turned their attention back to one of the country's most contentious packaging ordinances. Council members worked for years to get this fee passed, compromised from their original 10-cent fee proposal and agreed to delay the original October implementation date. Yet the packaging industry has remained strongly opposed to having its sales restricted in one of the largest markets in the country, similar to the city's failed efforts to ban polystyrene food containers in 2015.
The ongoing debate over the environmental effects and societal connection to these bags is part of a larger discussion on packaging reduction, though this latest entry has a particular New York spin. Unlike preemptive laws in other states, this one isn't targeting bag ordinances in other counties or municipalities. In a rare move, it explicitly names the New York City Council and is structured around an upcoming political change. Delaying any potential action until after city elections this fall means that at least some of the members who supported it at the time, including the council speaker, will be gone due to term limits. It is technically possible that the city could have a new mayor by then as well.
During this potential delay, state legislators plan to study the issue further and explore "possible alternatives." The details of those alternatives have not been described yet. Governor Andrew Cuomo could still veto this plan if it moves forward. The legislature has yet to overturn a veto since he took office in 2011, though it is possible if they can muster the votes. The results of this situation, as well as current efforts in Texas to overturn local bag regulations via state court challenges, could set a new precedent for the ability of municipalities to make their own packaging policies.