A year ago next week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the plastic bags littering streets and waterways a “statewide challenge.”
At the time, he blocked a New York City law that would have put a 5-cent fee on plastic bags, and he promised a task force to find a statewide solution.
“This Task Force will be different than usual as this matter requires expeditious action,” Cuomo promised in a statement. A month later, Cuomo established the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force. Its mission was clear.
“The working group will be charged with developing a report and proposed legislation to address the detrimental impact of plastic bags on the state’s environment,” a press release said. It added, “Members of the Task Force will work to develop a uniform and equitable statewide plan to address New York’s plastic bag problem.”
During a holiday weekend in January, that task force quietly released an 86-page report. It listed eight wide-ranging options that covered nearly any possible solution, from maintaining existing policies to adding a fee to banning the bags. But the task force did not make any recommendations. It did not establish “a uniform and equitable statewide plan,” and it did not propose any legislation. Since the task force released its findings, Cuomo has said virtually nothing about plastic bags. So much for a task force that would be “different than usual.”
In 2016, the City Council tried to do the right thing by passing the 5-cent fee. It could have changed city residents’ behavior, reduced waste and protected wildlife. When the State Legislature and Cuomo stopped it, they said a statewide policy would be better. Now, 20 months later, the city is exactly where it started. In that time, countless plastic bags have clogged storm drains and waterways, gotten stuck in trees, and piled up in landfills. We have a meaningless task force report, and silence from the governor.
The governor’s staff said he plans to come up with a statewide solution “as early as this session.” Clearly, a solution won’t be easy. Cuomo has to draft a tough New York law, and use his muscle to corral legislative support for it.
This is, after all, a “statewide challenge.”