Albany’s chance to make New York greener

Originally published in Newsday

Saying you’re green is easy. Turning environmental aspirations into legislation is another matter, as is proved every March during state budget negotiations in Albany.

Some initiatives spring suddenly to life, some die mystifying deaths, others linger in legislative purgatory. It’s happening again this year. With 10 days left before the April 1 deadline for an on-time budget, several worthy proposals are being debated that would have great impact on our environment.

Food waste: For two years, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed in vain a plan to reduce the huge amount of food wasted in New York and to help feed the hungry. He left it out of this year’s budget proposal, but spurred by environmental conservation committee chairman Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the Senate, formerly the obstacle, included it in its one-house budget. In the plan, supermarkets, colleges, hospitals and other big generators of excess food would have to donate edible items to hunger-relief organizations and recycle the rest. The timing is fortuitous; the metropolitan area’s first large-scale anaerobic digester just received a contract from the Long Island Power Authority for the power it will produce and is slated to open in Yaphank in 2020. With Cuomo ready to jump back on board, Kaminsky’s Assembly counterpart, Steve Englebright, another Long Islander, is well-positioned to bring it home.

Plastic bag ban: Another way to reduce obscene waste. Cuomo wants a ban on plastic bags and would give municipalities the option to charge a fee for paper bags. The Senate’s plan would make the paper fee mandatory, which has been shown to be the best way to promote reusable totes and reduce litter. But if the up-to-now resistant Assembly is willing to budge only on the plastic bag ban, negotiators should take it to keep moving the ball forward.

Bottle bill: Cuomo’s plan to add nickel deposits on glass, plastic and aluminum containers for beverages like sports and energy drinks and ready-to-drink iced teas and coffees was met with silence by both chambers. Now the issue is suddenly hot, but it’s complicated. Recycling is in crisis, sparked by China ratcheting up standards for recyclables. Cuomo’s plan would further hurt municipal recycling programs by removing plastics that still have value. Other proposals would add wines and spirits to the bottle bill, to get more glass out of curbside recycling to reduce the contamination issues they present. Another option is to hike the nickel fee to a dime or more to increase participation. Moving valuable aluminum cans back to curbside recycling would give municipalities and recyclers another source of revenue. Albany should be able to accomplish both goals — increasing recycling and keeping recyclers in business. If that can be done properly within the budget process, great. If not, punt it to the rest of the session. It’s that important.

Environmental Protection Fund: Cuomo wants to use EPF funds to pay for staffing, which has never been allowed and would lead to cuts to programs for water quality, land conservation, estuary protection and parks creation, among others. The Senate and Assembly are opposed; they’re right.