2016 Oil Slick Award: Senator Simcha Felder

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Recent Environmental Scorecards document the failings of Senate leaders when it comes to environmental legislation. Because of the Senate’s ongoing dysfunction and unwillingness to act, local governments often lead the way on everything from fracking bans and climate action, to protecting kids from toxic toys, and reducing waste such as plastic bags, microbeads, and plastic foam containers.

This year, the Senate engaged in an egregious attempt to export its dysfunction by thwarting local leadership, statewide, by banning municipalities from taking action to reduce plastic bag waste polluting our environment, waterways, filling our waste stream, and damaging our clean water infrastructure.

A little history: In May, the New York City Council passed – and Mayor Bill de Blasio enacted – a fee on single use disposable bags to encourage a reduction in use. Enter Senator Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), an elected Democrat who caucuses with the Republican conference. He took exception to their years of work and compromise, and even before the bill became law, abruptly introduced legislation with statewide implications, forever tying the hands of communities from acting on their own – a measure strongly opposed by senators from both sides of the aisle.

One troubling exchange from the floor debate:

Senator Hoylman: “Does the sponsor agree that there is a

problem of plastic bag waste?”

Senator Felder: “No.”

The Guinness Book of World Records noted in 2010 that plastic bags are the most ubiquitous consumer item in the world, with waste now found everywhere, from the highest mountains to the darkest depths of the sea. Not only would passage of Senator Felder’s legislation have prevented communities from acting to reduce needless waste, it would have set a dangerous precedent that forced the Senate’s frequent failure to act upon local governments statewide.

Because of the damage it would have inflicted and the chilling effect it would have for local progress, Senator Simcha Felder earns our 2016 Oil Slick Award.