ALBANY — A state judge on Friday granted a short-term victory to opponents of New York’s pending ban on single-use plastic bags, signing an order to delay enforcement until at least April 1 while a lawsuit continues.
The state statute imposing the ban technically takes effect Sunday, although enforcement of the regulations and penalties wasn’t expected to begin until March 14.
But a coalition of bodega owners, packaging companies and others has been seeking a temporary injunction and restraining order to block the regulations altogether. The lead plaintiff is Poly-Pak Industries, a Melville company that says the state ban will put it out of business.
Justice L. Michael Mackey of State Supreme Court, Albany County, didn’t rule on the injunction request Friday but scheduled the parties to answer claims in the lawsuit by March 24.
Given the new schedule for the case, Mackey said the Cuomo administration has agreed to suspend enforcement of the statute till April 1.
“Defendants-respondents have consented on the record to take no enforcement action pursuant” to the ban “until April 1, 2020,” Mackey wrote in a decision issued Friday afternoon.
Notably, the Friday agreement and order doesn’t affect a five-cent fee on paper bags that cities and counties have the option of applying. In fact, some already have begun imposing the fees, business coalition said.
Opponents called Friday’s developments a victory.
“Today’s court hearing delivered a big win for New York retailers and shoppers, hitting the pause button on the pending bag ban that has caused unnecessary confusion and stress statewide,” said Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which represents the coalition. “We are pleased that the (state) has finally admitted what we have long maintained: This ban is both unworkable and unenforceable. We have repeatedly asked the state to adopt a compromise that would the prevent chaos and inconvenience we are now seeing.”
Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued a statement, saying it was “pleased that a temporary restraining order was not issued in this case so New York’s ban on single-use plastic bags will go into effect as planned on March 1. We have consistently said since the beginning of our outreach campaign that we will focus on education rather than enforcement and today does not change that.”
Politico reported that, during arguments before Mackey on Friday, a DEC official said a restraining order wasn’t necessary because the agency had no plans to begin enforcing penalties associated with the ban. The agency wants the public to have time to adjust to the new law, the lawyer said, according to Politico.
Businesses have contended DEC overstepped its authority in developing regulations to be used to enforce the ban. For example, they said a requirement that would exempt bags at least 10 millimeters thick is a standard that no one in the packaging industry can meet. Only state legislators have the authority to amend the law to set those kind of standards, the businesses have argued.
Ken Trottere, vice president of Poly-Pak, which employs about 300, welcomed the delay: "We are pleased the state has agreed to hold off on implementing this unworkable ban, which has already had a negative impact on our business, causing confusion for our customers and unnecessary stress for our employees. We hope the DEC will take advantage of this time to work with us and other local business owners to reach a compromise solution like the one that exists right here in Suffolk County."