Last year, the New York City Council voted to impose a fee for single-use shopping bags. The fee, which would have charged shoppers at least five cents for non-reusable bags, is supposed to go into effect on Feb. 15.
But on Monday, the State Senate passed legislation putting a moratorium on the city's law. On Tuesday, the Assembly followed suit. If the governor signs it, it will derail what city officials say is a common-sense environmental measure.
In a statement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie explained why Albany intervened. "There were a number of issues with the local law that made state action necessary," he said. "It has the potential to negatively impact working poor households and senior citizens disproportionately."
That rationale doesn't make sense to New York City Council member Margaret Chin, who says the city's law was crafted with that consideration in mind. "We made sure that families on food stamps are exempt from the fee," she said. "We don't want people to pay. We want people to bring reusable bags." (The city's Sanitation Department has also been handing out free bags across the city.)
City officials have said it costs New York $12 million annually to dispose of plastic bags in landfills.
Heastie said the state and the city "share the same goal of reducing plastic waste and improving our environment...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."
That doesn't placate city lawmakers.
"What Albany is doing is disastrously bad environmental policy," said Council member Brad Lander, "and also disastrously bad democracy."
Attol Foreman manages a Fairway grocery store on the Upper East Side. He says he thinks that while people will eventually switch to recyclable bags, for now, customers have their own preferences.
"We have 7,000 to 8,000 customers coming in every day," he explained. "Some people want paper bags, some people want plastic bags, and some people don't want bags; they just put their groceries in their hand cart."
Heastie says state legislators will use the year-long moratorium to work with city officials on a solution.
Governer Andrew Cuomo hasn't said whether he'll sign or veto the Legislature's bill.