A bill to reduce plastic waste, seen at the Brookhaven Recycling...

A bill to reduce plastic waste, seen at the Brookhaven Recycling Facility,  cleared the State Senate but never reached a vote in the Assembly. Credit: /Morgan Campbell

For those pushing for legislative fixes to our serious environmental problems, the Albany session ended last week with frustrating losses and a surprise win.

The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act seemed headed for two-house approval. Then time ran out, and lawmakers adjourned. Proponents got the measure through the Senate, 37-23, by arguing it would get large companies to sharply reduce their annual tonnage of packaging. But it never reached a vote in the Assembly. Industry opponents kept up a top-dollar lobbying effort, claiming the measure would cost New York families $600 to $800 more per year for consumer goods, which the bill’s defenders vigorously disputed.

That it fell just short means that if the State Legislature reconvenes in the fall, as it should, the lower house can debate the bill and get it to Gov. Kathy Hochul. The measure impressively calls for relevant companies to reduce overall packaging by 30% in 12 years, make the rest recyclable or reusable, and reimburse municipalities for the collection and processing involved.

Another meritorious waste-reducing measure that fell short was a long-proposed bottle bill revision. As before, passage should have been relatively simple. This bill would raise bottle and can deposits from five cents, set in 1983, to 10 cents and expand the type of containers covered. Forty years is well past time for this.

On the positive side, both houses approved a ban on taking American horseshoe crabs as bait for commercial fishing and for biomedical use. New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland have already done so. The species found along Long Island's shores and the Atlantic coast in general is tagged by conservation groups as “vulnerable to extinction.” Horseshoe crabs are considered essential to shore birds and the coastal ecosystem. Hochul should sign the bill.

A more ambitious initiative won surprising two-house approval as the session waned. The climate change “superfund” bill is aimed at creating a 25-year dedicated fund of $3 billion per year. This would be financed by the highest-producing fossil fuel corporations. The idea is to pay for infrastructure “designed to avoid, moderate, repair or adapt to” negative climate change impacts. Parsing all the strength and weaknesses of this measure, and similar ones introduced in other states, could prove complicated. Legal challenges from the industry seem inevitable. Questions involve comparative liability among greenhouse gas emitters, how cost allocation is measured, and the degree to which federal law might get in the way or take precedence.

If done right, this plan could mean big relief for taxpayers. Climate-related infrastructure problems need to be fixed at a cost of billions just on Long Island. Hochul and her team should plunge in now, ask specific questions, and seek chapter amendments later if needed, with an eye toward making it work.

Pollution, exhausted natural resources, and climate change are the burden of the present generation. Elected officials at all levels need to pick up the pace on these fronts.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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