Lead sponsors of NYC’s “Bring Your Own Bag” bill appeal to NYS Assembly not to nullify the City’s thoroughly-vetted, democratically-adopted, easy-to-follow, environmentally-sound law

Lead sponsors of NYC’s “Bring Your Own Bag” bill appeal to NYS Assembly not to nullify the City’s thoroughly-vetted, democratically-adopted, easy-to-follow, environmentally-sound law

 

New York City Council Members Chin, Lander, Reynoso, Richards make clear that the City Council stands ready to address technical issues the Assembly has raised in negotiations. The City’s law is set to go into effect on February 15th, and should not be pre-empted (either temporarily or permanently).   

February 4, 2017 -- New York City Council Members Margaret Chin, Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Donovan Richards, the lead sponsors of New York City Council’s Local Law 63 of 2016 (requiring a 5-cent fee for single-use carryout bags, to encourage people to switch to reusable bags and reduce plastic waste), released the following statement, regarding the New York State Assembly’s consideration of nullifying the City’s law:

“On February 15th, New York City is set to take a big step forward in reducing the 10 billion petroleum-based plastic bags we throw out each year, cleaning up our neighborhoods, and eliminating nearly 100,000 tons of solid waste. We appeal to the New York State Assembly not to force us to go backwards.

We stand ready to address the technical issues that have been raised in negotiations, since we agreed to delay implementation of the law from October 1, 2016 until February 15, 2017. Any action by the New York State Legislature to overturn and pre-empt the Council’s law – whether temporarily or permanently – is not a genuine compromise.

Our “Bring Your Own Bag” Law is good policy, modeled on similar bag fee legislation in hundreds of cities around the country, and many countries around the world. New Yorkers will begin bringing reusable bags, just as residents of Washington DC, the State of California, Seattle, Ireland, and South Africa have done.

We held extensive hearings, amended the law several times (e.g. reducing the fee from 10-cents to 5-cents, adding an extensive reusable bag giveaway and outreach program, strengthening the survey and report on how the law is working), and voted democratically to adopt the law. The bill passed the Council with a majority overall, and with nearly two-thirds support (16 - 9) from Council Member who are members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus.

We are prepared to work with you to immediately address concerns that have been raised in negotiations, since we agreed to delay implementation:   

  • Making sure that stores do not charge more than five cents for single-use bags. While we are not aware of this problem arising in other jurisdictions (whose laws are written the same way as Local Law 63), we stand ready to address the legislature’s concern.

  • Use of a portion of the fee for public purpose. Some legislators have expressed concern that the fee remains with the retailer, rather than being collected by the government as a tax. In most jurisdictions that have a single-use bag fee (even those with the power to establish taxes), the fee remains with the retailer. In some places, however (e.g. Washington D.C.), a portion of the charge is collected by the government and dedicated to an environmental or other public purpose. Under State law, the City of New York lacks the authority to levy a tax in this manner. We would, however, be willing to work in partnership with the State legislature to establish an appropriate legal framework that would allow for the government to collect and use a portion of the fee.

  • Thoughtfully evaluating the impact of the law. We agree that it will be critically important to evaluate the impact of the law, once it goes into effect. Our law requires an extensive survey and report on the reduction of solid waste, impact on consumers, and consumer attitudes about the law, including recommendations for adjustments. We would welcome the opportunity to build in a formal opportunity for New York State legislators to collaborate in that review and assessment. Over this period, other cities and counties will also be implementing bag fees (as well as other approaches, including plastic bag bans). With the experience from these local policies, we hope that New York State will be able to adopt a state-wide law, as California recently has done.

These concerns can be addressed immediately, in ways which do not conflict with the implementation of the law on February 15th.

However,  any action by the New York State Legislature to overturn and pre-empt the Council’s law – whether temporarily or permanently – is an inappropriate act that usurps the power of a democratically-elected local legislature, acting fully within its authority.

Moreover, nullifying our law would be a substantial environmental setback for New York, forcing the City to continue to send 91,000 tons of petroleum-based, plastic solid waste to landfills every year – which is why it is opposed by every environmental group in New York – and costing the city millions of dollars every year.

Finally, if such a law were only to affect the City of New York and to be passed without a home rule message, it would likely violate the New York State Constitution’s prohibitions on “special laws” that affect only one jurisdiction in the state. Several other jurisdictions, including Suffolk County and Long Beach City in Nassau County, have adopted single-use bag fee bills very similar to New York City’s law. There is no legal or policy rationale for allowing them to proceed, while prohibiting New York City from implementing our law.

Members of the State Legislature are correct that New Yorkers do not want to pay a nickel for single-use bags – which is why they will quickly begin bringing reusable bags instead, as the vast majority of people have done in the hundreds of other jurisdictions where bag fees have been adopted.

We appeal to the Assembly to engage with the City Council in good-faith negotiations on the concerns described above. We hope that the Assembly will not pass a bill that would pre-empt and nullify the City’s law, on a temporary or permanent basis. We look forward to working with the Assembly to dramatically reduce New York City’s wasteful plastic bag usage – nearly 10 billion, single-use, petroleum-based bags each year.

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