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After Superseding City, Cuomo's Plastic Bag Panel Punts


Cuomo climate change

Gov. Cuomo on climate change (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


A task force convened by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year to study plastic bag use by New York consumers, and to propose solutions to reduce their usage, released its report on Saturday, and New York City officials are again disappointed in Cuomo on the subject, to say the least.

It’s been just about a year since the governor signed state legislation invalidating a New York City law to impose a nickel fee on single-use plastic and paper bags. In overriding the city’s legislation, Cuomo called the plan flawed, but acknowledged the problem of plastic bag waste, and announced a task force that would propose actionable ideas once it concluded its work.

“The costly and negative impact of plastic bags on New York’s natural resources is a statewide issue that demands a statewide solution,” Cuomo said at the time, promising that the committee of environment advocates, industry representatives, and elected officials would “bring the experience and knowledge necessary to tackle this problem and safeguard New York’s environment for future generations.”

What came of it, however, was the pros and cons of eight options that the state could pursue, including the continuation or strengthening of existing policies, an outright ban, or a partial ban along with the imposition of new fees. The report did not recommend any one option over the others.

“It’s a cynical cop out,” said City Council Member Brad Lander, one of the architects of the Council’s legislation that passed in 2016 but was preempted by the state Legislature and Cuomo last year before it could go into effect. “The Governor, by his own admission, made this problem his responsibility,” Lander added, noting that the city sends tens of thousands of tons of plastic waste to landfills each month, including nearly a billion plastic bags. “And every one is on the governor’s hands,” he said.

The city bill, co-sponsored by Lander and Council Member Margaret Chin, was a controversial piece of legislation that passed with 28 votes, a slim majority in the 51-member Council. An especially rare level of dissent in a chamber where bills virtually never reach the floor without the votes to pass, 20 Council members voted against the bill, many arguing that it would hurt the pockets of middle-class families and low-income New Yorkers, even though it included carve-outs for people receiving government assistance.

That argument carried the day in Albany, where the Legislature passed legislation preventing municipalities with more than a million residents from passing any new fees on single-use bags. New York City is the only municipality in the state that meets the criteria. A similar 5-cent fee on single-use bags was allowed to stand in neighboring Suffolk County, and went into effect on January 1. (Since localities lack the power to institute a tax on plastic bags, the legislation requires businesses to charge the fee and they get to keep the proceeds, something Cuomo pointed to as problematic.)

Many months later, the governor’s task force seemed to kick the can down the road further, with the report merely restating many facts about plastic bag usage that had already been thoroughly debated by the City Council. “A high school student with internet access could have prepared that report,” Lander said incredulously. “It’s ridiculous. I mean, honestly, what I especially liked is that of the eight recommendations, two of them are ‘do nothing.’”

Cuomo mentioned the plastic bag task force in passing at his budget presentation on Tuesday. The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on whether he favored any of the options put forward by the task force or indicate any concrete next steps.

“The New York State Plastic Bag Task Force, and its six independent members, has completed a comprehensive review of options available to address the growing threat of plastic bag waste on the environment,” said Sean Mahar, a spokesperson for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, in an emailed statement. “While the Task Force did not reach a consensus around one specific recommendation, highlighting the complexity of the issue, the administration is currently reviewing the options identified in the report.”

That the task force was a redundant effort seems borne out by one of its own members. Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, publicly issued a “dissent” of the task force’s final report when it was released.

Bystryn insisted on only two “acceptable recommendations,” which involved either a fee on plastic and paper bags or a ban on plastic bags with an accompanying fee on paper bags. “It is the long-held position of the environmental community that a successful solution must include a fee component on all single-use bags,” she said, adding that improved recycling efforts would be insufficient. “We know from countless examples around the world that when consumers take responsibility for their actions by bringing their own bag or paying a fee to cover their environmental impact, single-use bag consumption drops precipitously. I am disappointed the final report fails to convey this position,” she added.

Neither Mayor Bill de Blasio nor City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had seen the report as of Tuesday afternoon, but both separately called for stronger measures to reduce bag usage.

“I proudly voted in favor of the plastic bag bill,” Johnson said, when asked by Gotham Gazette at a news conference at City Hall. “I was disappointed that our authority was taken away from us.”

“We have to do something about plastic bags. It is a scourge on the environment,” he added.

The mayor, at a separate news conference Tuesday, reiterated his call for a complete ban on plastic bags. “We’ve tried a previous approach and it didn’t find favor in Albany but the question at hand is, we can’t keep putting plastic bags into our environment, so what are we going to do? I think a ban makes a lot of sense,” he told reporters.

But the City Council can effectively do little short of passing yet another bill that can be struck down by the state. “We have to figure out what the next steps are,” said Lander, decrying the “weak” home rule powers in the state that allowed the Legislature to quash the city’s first attempt. “I feel like trying again here would be like Charlie Brown and the football and it just doesn’t make sense.”

Lander believes the best solution is a hybrid of a ban on thin plastic bags and a fee on thicker plastic and paper bags. An absolute ban on thin bags does not work, he said, citing the example of Hawaii and Chicago where retailers simply started handing out thicker bags and consequently increased the amount of solid waste. And he insisted that the onus for a solution now lies entirely with the governor.

“[Governor Cuomo] took this problem on when he vetoed our bill, when he created the commission, when he announced he was taking responsibility for it,” Lander said. “We took a lot of responsibility. We did the hard work here. We were ready to bear the challenge of doing it. We had robust debate in the chamber. Not everybody was on board but we agreed to do it. This is on the governor.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [Data] Point? $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett


whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 26 -- $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

patchett and ben

James Patchett is the President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the city's nonprofit arm dedicated to spurring job and industry growth, managing special projects, and implementing certain infrastructure projects. Patchett joined the podcast to discuss the City's development strategy, tax breaks, NYC Ferry, and the BQX streetcar project, and to respond to a new Citizens Budget Commission report evaluating the City's approach to economic development.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis), and guest James Patchett (@jbpatchett) of the Economic Development Corporation (@NYCEDC). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Names New Leadership, Committee Chairs and Members


Corey Johnson Speaker City Council chambers

City Council chambers (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, outlined his leadership team and Council committee chair and membership assignments on Thursday. Johnson named Brooklyn Council Member Laurie Cumbo, a close ally and friend, as Majority Leader. Majority Whip will be Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx; the Democratic Conference Chair, a new position, will be filled by Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr.; Brooklyn Council Member Rafael Espinal, Jr. will fill another new role, that of Deputy leader for Digital Communication; and Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander will keep his role as Deputy Leader for Policy.

There are another roughly dozen members of the leadership team as announced by Johnson. He also announced that Brooklyn Council Member Carlos Menchaca will lead the expansion of participatory budgeting across the Council, where members choose to implement the program.

Staten Island Council Member Steve Matteo was already voted Minority Leader in the three-member Republican conference, with Council Member Joe Borelli, also of Staten Island, as Minority Whip, both reprising roles from last session. Borelli was also named to chair the new Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, which is being broken away from what was the Committee on Criminal Justice and Fire.

Top committee chair posts are going to Johnson allies and members of the Bronx and Queens delegations after those two Democratic county party machines backed him for speaker, decisively helping him attain the position. Johnson had also secured support from nearly a dozen members from Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn, he has said, to help convince the Bronx and Queens party leaders -- Assemblymember Marcos Crespo and Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, respectively -- to give him their support and the Council member votes that come with it.

The two most powerful and prestigious Council committees will be chaired by Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, who will lead the Committee on Land Use, and Queens Council Member Danny Dromm, who will lead the Committee on Finance.

Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr., who previously declared himself the runner-up in the speaker race, will chair the Committee on Housing and Buildings. Johnson named Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres to lead the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which Johnson has pledged to beef up in an effort to more acutely hold the mayoral administration accountable.

Other top committee posts include: Queens Council Member Donovan Richards as chair of the Committee on Public Safety; Brooklyn Council Member Mark Treyger as chair of the Committee on Education; Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers as chair of Criminal Justice; and Queens Council Member Rory Lancman as chair of the Committee on the Justice System. Manhattan Council Member Mark Levine, who was in the running for speaker, will chair the Health Committee, previously chaired by Johnson.

Several Council members are retaining committee chair positions, including Manhattan Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez as chair of the Committee on Transportation and Steven Levin as chair of the Committee on General Welfare.

As the crisis of the Council's gender imbalance continues to get more attention -- there are just 11 women in the Council's 51 seats -- Manhattan Council Member Helen Rosenthal will chair the Committee on Women's Issues.

Along with the new fire and emergency services committee, other new committees include a Committee on Hospitals, to be chaired by Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera; and the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, to be chaired by Bronx Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr.

Notably, Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera will chair the Committee on Governmental Operations, taking over from Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, who will remain on the committee. Kallos was roundly praised for his leadership of the committee over the prior session, both as a reformer and for holding accountable relevant agencies, like the Board of Elections.

A full list of committee chairs and members, which passed the rules committee and still need to be approved by the full Council:

Aging
Margaret Chin, Chair
Diana Ayala
Chaim Deutsch
Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Danny Dromm
Mathieu Eugene
Debi Rose
Mark Treyger
Paul Vallone

Civil and Human Rights
Matheiu Eugene, Chair
Danny Dromm
Ben Kallos
Brad Lander
Bill Perkins
Ydanis Rodriguez
Helen Rosenthal

Civil Service and Labor
I. Daneek Miller, Chair
Adrienne Adams
Danny Dromm
Andy King
Alan Maisel
Eric Ulrich
Jumaane Williams

Consumer Affairs
Rafael Espinal, Chair
Margaret Chin
Peter Koo
Karen Koslowitz
Brad Lander

Contracts
Justin Brannan, Chair
Inez Barron
Bill Perkins
Helen Rosenthal
Kalman Yeger

Criminal Justice Services
Keith Powers, Chair
Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Robert Holden
Rory Lancman
Carlina Rivera

Cultural Affairs
Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair
Joe Borelli
Laurie Cumbo
Karen Koslowitz
Francisco Moya

Economic Development
Paul Vallone, Chair
Adrienne Adams
Inez Barron
Robert Cornegy, Jr.
Peter Koo
Brad Lander
Mark Levine
Carlos Menchaca
Keith Powers
Donovan Richards
Carlina Rivera
Helen Rosenthal
Jumaane Williams

Education
Mark Treyger, Chair
Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Inez Barron
Joe Borelli
Justin Brannan
Andrew Cohen
Robert Cornegy, Jr.
Chaim Deutsch
Danny Dromm
Barry Grodenchik
Ben Kallos
Andy King
Brad Lander
Steven Levin
Mark Levine
Debi Rose
Rafael Salamanca, Jr.
Eric Ulrich

Environmental Protection
Costa Constantinides, Chair
Rafael Espinal, Jr.
Steven Levin
Carlos Menchaca
Donovan Richards
Eric Ulrich
Kalman Yeger

Finance
Danny Dromm, Chair
Adrienne Adams
Andrew Cohen
Robert Cornegy, Jr.
Laurie Cumbo
Vanessa Gibson
Barry Grodenchik
Rory Lancman
Steven Matteo
Francisco Moya
Keith Powers
Helen Rosenthal
Jimmy Van Bramer

Fire and Emergency Management
Joe Borelli, Chair
Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Justin Brannan
Fernando Cabrera
Alan Maisel

For-Hire Vehicles
Ruben Diaz, Sr., Chair
Joe Borelli
Costa Constantinides
Francisco Moya
Debi Rose
Ydanis Rodriguez
Paul Vallone

General Welfare
Steven Levin, Chair
Adrienne Adams
Diana Ayala
Vanessa Gibson
Mark Gjonaj
Barry Grodenchik
Brad Lander
Antonion Reynoso
Rafael Salamanca, Jr.
Ritchie Torres
Mark Treyger

Governmental Operations
Fernando Cabrera, Chair
Ben Kallos
Alan Maisel
Bill Perkins
Keith Powers
Ydanis Rodriguez
Kalman Yeger

Health
Mark Levine, Chair
Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Inez Barron
Mathieu Eugene
Keith Powers

Higher Education
Inez Barron, Chair
Laurie Cumbo
Robert Holden
Ben Kallos
Ydanis Rodriguez

Hospitals
Carlina Rivera, Chair
Diana Ayala
Mathieu Eugene
Mark Levine
Alan Maisel
Francisco Moya
Antonio Reynoso

Housing and Buildings
Robert Cornegy, Jr., Chair
Fernando Cabrera
Margaret Chin
Rafael Espinal, Jr.
Mark Gjonaj
Barry Grodenchik
Bill Perkins
Carlina Rivera
Helen Rosenthal
Ritchie Torres
Jumaane Williams

Immigration
Carlos Menchaca, Chair
Danny Dromm
Mathieu Eugene
Robert Holden
Mark Gjonaj
I. Daneek Miller
Kalman Yeger

Justice System
Rory Lancman, Chair
Andrew Cohen
Alan Maisel
Debi Rose
Eric Ulrich

Juvenile Justice
Andy King, Chair
Inez Barron
Mark Gjonaj
Robert Holden
Mark Levine
Bill Perkins
Jumaane Williams

Land Use
Rafael Salamanca, Jr., Chair
Adrienne Adams
Inez Barron
Costa Constantinides
Chaim Deutsch
Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Vanessa Gibson
Barry Grodenchik
Ben Kallos
Andy King
Peter Koo
Rory Lancman
Steven Levin
I. Daneek Miller
Francisco Moya
Antonio Reynoso
Donovan Richards
Carlina Rivera
Ritchie Torres
Mark Treyger

Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction
Diana Ayala, Chair
Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Fernando Cabrera
Robert Holden
Jimmy Van Bramer

Oversight and Investigations
Ritchie Torres, Chair
Ben Kallos
Rory Lancman
Keith Powers
Rafael Salamanca, Jr.
Mark Treyger
Kalman Yeger

Parks and Recreation
Barry Grodenchik, Chair
Joe Borelli
Justin Brannan
Andrew Cohen
Costa Constantinides
Mark Gjonaj
Andy King
Peter Koo
Francisco Moya
Eric Ulrich
Jimmy Van Bramer

Public Housing
Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Chair
Diana Ayala
Laurie Cumbo
Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Mark Gjonaj
Carlos Menchaca
Donovan Richards
Rafael Salamanca, Jr.
Ritchie Torres
Mark Treyger
Jimmy Van Bramer

Public Safety
Donovan Richards, Chair
Justin Brannan
Fernando Cabrera
Andrew Cohen
Chaim Deutsch
Vanessa Gibson
Rory Lancman
Carlos Menchaca
I. Daneek Miller
Keith Powers
Ydanis Rodriguez
Paul Vallone
Jumaane Williams

Rules, Priveleges and Elections
Karen Koslowitz, Chair
Adrienne Adams
Margaret Chin
Robert Cornegy, Jr.
Rafael Espinal, Jr.
Vanessa Gibson
Corey Johnson
Rory Lancman
Steven Matteo
Ritchie Torres
Mark Treyger

Sanitation and Solid Waste Management
Antonio Reynoso, Chair
Fernando Cabrera
Chaim Deutsch
Rafael Espinal, Jr.
Paul Vallone

Small Business
Mark Gjonaj, Chair
Diana Ayala
Steven Levin
Bill Perkins
Carlina Rivera

Standards and Ethics
Steven Matteo, Chair
Margaret Chin
Vanessa Gibson
Karen Koslowitz
Steven Levin

State and Federal Legislation
Andrew Cohen, Chair
Robet Cornegy, Jr.
Rafael Espinal, Jr.
Karen Koslowitz
Ydanis Rodriguez

Technology
Peter Koo, Chair
Robert Holden
Brad Lander
Eric Ulrich
Kalman Yeger

Transportation
Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair
Fernando Cabrera
Costa Constantinides
Chaim Deutsch
Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Rafael Espinal, Jr.
Peter Koo
Steven Levin
Mark Levine
Carlos Menchaca
I. Daneek Miller
Antonio Reynoso
Donovan Richards
Debi Rose
Rafael Salamanca, Jr.

Veterans
Chaim Deutsch, Chair
Justin Brannan
Mathieu Eugene
Alan Maisel
Paul Vallone

Women's Issues
Helen Rosenthal, Chair
Diana Ayala
Laurie Cumbo
Ben Kallos
Brad Lander

Youth Services
Debi Rose, Chair
Justin Brannan
Margaret Chin
Mathieu Eugene
Andy King

SUBCOMMITTEES

Capital Budget
Vanessa Gibson, Chair
Barry Grodenchik
Steven Matteo
Helen Rosenthal
Keith Powers

Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses
Adrienne Adams, Chair
Inez Barron
Peter Koo
I. Daneek Miller
Mark Treyger

Planning, Dispositions and Concessions
Ben Kallos, Chair
Chaim Deutsch
Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Andy King
Vanessa Gibson

Zoning and Franchises
Francisco Moya, Chair
Costa Constantinides
Barry Grodenchik
Rory Lancman
Steven Levin
Antonio Reynoso
Donovan Richards
Carlina Rivera
Ritchie Torres

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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