The Dutchess County, New York legislature has approved a ban on plastic shopping bags. Despite the near unanimous vote, there was controversy over one aspect that did not make it into the measure.
The ban on disposable plastic bags in supermarkets and convenience stores was authored by Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver and his Republican colleague, Majority Leader Don Sagliano. Pulver says he is proud the county is taking action with this environmental policy. The law was modeled after one the Ulster County executive signed in October, with one exception. Here’s Pulver:
“The controversy behind whether we should or shouldn’t be charging a fee for the paper bags is, that was the only bone of contention in the legislature,” Pulver says. “And ultimately we felt that charging a fee kind of hurt the elderly and the poor.”
And he contends, would have enriched store owners. Pulver says the Republican caucus rejected a proposal led by Beacon Democratic Legislator Nick Page to include a $0.05 fee on other disposable bags, similar to a requirement in the Ulster County bill.
“That’s right. We just, we simply couldn’t get any support from the other side of the aisle despite the fact that we did have not only all the evidence that’s been gleaned from the hundreds of locations that have put these laws on the books but also local expert testimony from various environmental groups,” says Page.
Liz Moran is environmental policy director at the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“Dutchess County making this move is a great step,” says Moran.
“It’s another sign that counties are stepping up where the state has yet to do so,” Moran says. “Counties did actions like this with the ban on fracking. Counties took actions like this on microbeads. So it’s great to see local governments taking this step, but we really do need the state to step up and take statewide action. This is not a local concern. This is a statewide concern and a national concern.”
“This plastic bag ban is, unfortunately, more of a window dressing than it could be and should be,” Page says.
Other Democratic legislators characterize the ban as baby steps. Democratic Ulster County Executive Mike Hein says legislative sponsors agreed to amend the act before the effective date next summer to include a provision that would exempt low-income families from paying the $0.05 fee. Pulver, who says Dutchess County is estimated to use more than 100 million single-use plastic bags each year, addresses why Republicans did not go the exemption route.
“It was getting so cumbersome at that point. The language was getting, with SNAP payments, whether you’re eligible for SNAP payments, whether you weren’t,” says Pulver. “We just, we thought this was a cleaner bill the way we did it.”
He says the door is open for modification but he does not support the fee.
“It’s a work in progress,” Pulver says. “We’re looking to see in 2020 how it gets implemented and then move along from there.”
Page contends the hybrid law adopted in Ulster is more effective.
“The bans reduce shopping bag waste by about 20 percent, and the ban plus fee hybrids can get up into 90 percent,” Page says. “So, it’s significantly worse but, at this point, we’ll take what we can get and plug along.”
Pages notes that laws aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of disposable shopping bags have been around for more than 15 years. More than 60 countries have shopping bag laws in place and nearly 350 bag laws are in place in the United States alone. Pulver says Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is expected to sign the bill, which would take effect January 1, 2020.