Following the submission of a petition with over 1,000 signatures in support of a “Reusable Bag Initiative”, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Croton began considering the adoption of a new local law governing single-use shopping bags. Because of the potential impact on residents, businesses and our environment, and the attendant legal consequences, the Board must move deliberately.
To date, the bag issue has been addressed at Regular Board of Trustees Meetings on May 9th, July 23rd, September 4rd and Work Sessions on June 11th, August 13th, and September 12th.
The community group that petitioned the Board has proposed that the Village adopt a local law modeled on the one enacted in the Town of New Castle. The New Castle law bans single-use plastic bags in all stores and requires that certain stores (e.g. supermarkets and pharmacies) collect a fee on paper bags. The petitioners cite an array of jurisdictions that have banned plastic bags and report by the U.N. calling on governments to consider banning or taxing single-use bags or food containers to stem a tide of plastic-related pollution.
The Food Industry Alliance, a trade group representing supermarkets, has made its position very clear. FIA strongly opposes a ban on single-use plastic bags and instead proffers a fee on both plastic and paper bags. FIA cites the Town of Bedford and Suffolk County as examples of communities that have followed this approach.
The discussion regarding different policy proposals to shift away from single-use plastic bags has environmental consequences. There is also the potential of fiscal repercussions for property taxpayers.
The Village of Hastings-on-Hudson was sued by the Food Industry Alliance in October 2014 over the plastic bag ban that they had adopted in June of that year. The FIA argued the matter required full review under New York’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Act because they claim that an increase in the use of paper bags could have a greater negative impact on the environment.
Hastings spent close to $50,000 on the litigation before it was dismissed for procedural reasons (the FIA member store in Hastings, an A&P, went out of business following the unrelated bankruptcy of the A&P chain). If our Village were to prevail in a potential lawsuit, it’s possible a plaintiff would appeal, which could easily cost another $50,000, for total legal fees of $100,00 or more. For perspective, the 2017 tax cap was approximately $162,000.
As part of the legislative process, the Village will complete a review of the proposed local law under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The first step is the preparation of a draft Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) by the Village Attorney, which will take several weeks.
In the meantime, I ask that members of the public with information they think is relevant to this discussion to forward it to me at email@example.com with “Plastic Bags” in the subject line.
Brian Pugh: Path Forward On The Reusable Bag Initiative