Cuomo Political Gimmick Throws Shade On Smart City Policy

Ben Kallos Leads Charge Against Trump Environmental Policies, Then Cuomo Crashes In

Updated 4 weeks ago David Stone
Ben Kallos chatting with Roosevelt Islanders in 2016
Ben Kallos chatting with Roosevelt Islanders in 2016
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Leading the charge by working to ban plastic bottles in City parks and beaches, “Trump may try to destroy the environment at our national parks,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, “but we can force President Trump to do his part to protect our environment right here in New York City. We can save our planet one bottle at a time.

Two pieces of legislation are being introduced, one by Kallos, who represents Roosevelt Island,  and another by Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing Chair Rafael Espinal, and Environmental Protection Chair Costa Constantinides.

Kallos's bill bans single-use water bottles in city government parks and concessions in favor of re-usable bottles. The bill authored by Espinal bans the sale of any plastic bottle at city parks and beaches.

Requested by the Sierra Club, the bills share a rationale.

"One million plastic bottles are purchased every minute with less than 50% recycled and only 7% turned into new bottles, with as much as 13 million tons of plastic leaking into our oceans each year to be ingested by sea life. In turn, people who eat seafood ingest about 11,000 pieces of tiny plastic every year."

Not to mention the unsightly mess of plastic bottles discarded as litter and left floating in open water.

Governor Andrew Cuomo Stomps In

City Council action last year, introduced by Brad Lander and supported by Kallos, to drastically reduce plastic bag waste was torpedoed by Cuomo and the Republican controlled Senate, but this is a new season. Cuomo's being challenged for the Democratic Party nomination by Cynthia Nixon, a progressive who's gotten quick, early traction.

Just as Kallos, Espinal and Constantinides introduced their bills, the Governor jumped in with enthusiastic support for... wait for it -- reducing plastic bag waste.

"The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment," Cuomo said, as if suddenly finding religion. "As the old proverb goes: 'We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,' and with this action we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all."

But Council Member Brad Landler, who championed the bag legislation that Cuomo and the Republicans overturned in Albany, last legislative season, was not convinced of the Governor conversion to environmentalism.

"If Governor Cuomo has actually gotten serious about reducing the billions of plastic bags that New Yorkers send to landfills each month, it would be great news. But this looks like election-year Earth Day politics," said Landler in a statement.

"The governor’s ‘program bill’ has no legislative co-sponsors, and was introduced after the governor’s budget leverage is gone, and with Simcha Felder -- well-known lover of plastic bags -- in the catbird seat in the State Senate. So there’s no reason to believe it will go anywhere."

But after tagging Cuomo's initiative a con, Landler had more to say about the program's specifics.

"A plastic bag ban with no fee on paper bags sounds good -- we’d all prefer to get something for nothing -- but it’s bad environmental policy. It will not reduce solid waste, because it gives no incentive for people to switch to reusable bags. At best, it will lead to a massive increase in paper bags, most of which are not recycled. Retailers will be hit hard, since paper bags cost five times as much as plastic bags."

Council Member Kallos and others are refraining from comment until having an opportunity to see the Governor's proposal in detail. Candidate Nixon, busy in Albany marching with others demanding cleaner climate change for New York, has not yet weighed in on Cuomo's newly discovered environmentalism.

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