On Earth Day, there were a number of events and new commitments throughout the Hudson Valley, including a visit from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He was at the Kingston waterfront Monday to sign a plastic bag ban. Plus, a state Senator is introducing a bill she says will improve the environment.
Governor Cuomo signed legislation in two locales Monday that bans the sale of single-use plastic bags in New York starting in March 2020.
“New Yorkers use 23 billion every year, believe it or not,” said Cuomo.
After a trip to Long Island, Cuomo was at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, with the Sloop Clearwater as a backdrop. Cuomo says the bill he signed was influenced in many ways from the prophecy and vision of Ulster County and Mike Hein. Here’s Hein.
“I’m glad to play some small part in the beginning of this kind of issue and bringing it to the forefront at the county level,” says Hein. “But, the truth is, it’s so much more than we could have ever imagined, having it on the state level. It really impacts millions and millions of people and will make a huge difference for generations to come.”
In October 2018, then-County Executive Mike Hein signed “The Bring Your Own Bag Act” banning stores from providing single-use plastic carryout bags and requiring them to charge $0.05 for each recyclable paper bag provided to customers. The bill exempted individuals who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. Ulster was the first county in the state with such a ban that was to take effect July 15th. Hein left his county post earlier this year to lead the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Democratic Kingston Mayor Steve Noble also attended Cuomo’s bill signing.
“Kingston’s a really environmentally sustainable place. And I think that, to me, this was a great location for him to choose,” says Noble. “Especially on Earth Day, I think it shows how much work we’ve been doing in every area of resiliency, sustainability, energy and our commitment to being green, which is also helping to save tax dollars.”
Democratic state Senator Jen Metzger of the 42nd District was in attendance.
“It’s one of many single-use plastics that we have to work on, but this is a really a, a big step forward,” says Metzger.
The state ban levies a five-cent fee on paper bags, and local governments can opt in. Three of the five cents will go to the Environmental Protection Fund and two cents would be used to provide the reusable bags in that community. Also on Earth Day, Noble released the city’s 2018 sustainability report. He says the sustainability staff is managing more than 15 grants in excess of $800,000.
“I think one of the things we really wanted to just showcase to our community was all of the work that we are doing because not everything sustainability is glitzy and glam,” Noble says. “And so we wanted to be able to show people some of the behind-the-scenes work that we’re doing in city government to make sure that we’re being more energy efficient and more resourceful with our natural resources.”
On the heels of Earth Day comes Arbor Day, April 26. Noble will deliver a proclamation of Arbor Day, and a state Department of Environmental Conservation senior forester will provide an acknowledgement of Kingston as a Tree City for 23 years. The Tree City USA program is a nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees. Kingston plants a tree each year to commemorate Arbor Day. This year, a yellow magnolia tree will be planted near the Flannery Drive entrance to City Hall.
Meantime, Metzger, who is a member of the state Senate’s Environmental Conservation and Energy and Telecommunications Committees, has her own agenda, and the timing surrounded Earth Day.
“So, yes, I’ve introduced a new bill called the ‘Freedom From Fossil Fuels Act,’ and it essentially places a moratorium on the building of any new fossil fuel generation in New York state and requires a master plan for the phase-out of fossil fuel energy use in New York state by 2030 a practical goal, but no later than 2040,” Metzger says.
So far, there is no Assembly sponsor but Metzger emphasizes that she just introduced the legislation.
State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who introduced Cuomo in Kingston, was also in Columbia County to announce that the state has acquired two properties there. The state purchased more than 1,000 acres for $6.7 million, doubling the size of the Hand Hollow State Forest. DEC purchased 590 acres along the Hudson River in the town of Stockport and 524 acres in the town of New Lebanon.