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Plastic bag problem now in Gov. Cuomo’s hands

The city's 5-cent plastic bag fee was set

The city's 5-cent plastic bag fee was set to take effect on Feb. 15. Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Now it’s up to the governor.

In putting a stop to New York City’s 5-cent plastic bag fee, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the city’s goal was a good one — but the effort was flawed. Halting the environmental harm done by plastic bags, he said, is “a statewide challenge” and requires a statewide solution.

He’s both wrong and right. Cuomo wrongly blocked the city’s fee from going into effect on Wednesday to stem the tide of waste, but he correctly cited this as an issue that has to be addressed across New York State.

Long Island has begun to act, but in the scattershot fashion typical of the region. Suffolk County’s nickel-per-bag fee takes effect in 2018, Long Beach’s 5-cent fee begins in April, and bag bans are in place in Patchogue Village and East Hampton and Southampton towns.

Cuomo announced plans to establish a task force, with co-chairs appointed by the State Senate and state Assembly, that will propose legislation by the end of this year. Whether that means a statewide ban of plastic bags, a tax on them or an entirely different plan, it’s critically important that the solution be comprehensive and effective.

New York City officials, and others across the state who have brought this issue to the forefront, deserve credit for trying to find local solutions while hamstrung by Albany’s rules. But by stopping the city’s effort and turning it into a statewide issue, Cuomo has made this environmental problem his own to solve.

New legislation should be approved by early next year. Even as the task force works, New Yorkers statewide will use about 23 billion plastic bags, and the many bags that are discarded will harm fish and birds, beaches and oceans. It’s time to find a better way, and Cuomo now owns the task.— The editorial board