Editorial

GOP is hardly Rooseveltian on conservation

Posted

Nassau County’s most famous Republican, President Theodore Roosevelt, dedicated much of his life to preserving nature. During his time in the White House, the Oyster Bay resident established 150 national forests, 51 bird reserves, five national parks and more.

Roosevelt — whose Sagamore Hill home stands as a testament to his conservation efforts — also knew that humans should not touch some of what nature had provided. Of the Grand Canyon, he once said, “The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” Sadly, Roosevelt’s party has lost sight of conservation, and is putting at risk the environment that he fought so hard to protect.

Richard Nicolello, presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, declared a paper-bag fee dead on arrival. “As long as the Republicans have the majority in Nassau County, there will be no paper-bag fee,” the New Hyde Park Republican told reporters earlier this month.

Counties were granted the power to implement a 5-cent fee on paper shopping bags after the state agreed to ban plastic ones in stores starting next March. The plastic-bag ban was long overdue, and we applaud State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat who heads the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, for pushing it through. Tens of thousands of bags are removed from South Shore wetlands every year, according to the Long Beach Environmental Advisory Board. They threaten the shore’s ecosystem, injuring and killing marine creatures that call the wetlands home. This in turn threatens the area’s economy, because many South Shore residents rely on the water to earn a living fishing.

Nassau County had the chance to mitigate these risks — Legislator Debra Mulé, a Freeport Democrat, proposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags, a move proven to reduce the use of plastic. In Suffolk County, which enacted a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, there has been an 80 percent reduction in single-use bags, according to the Food Industry Alliance of New York State.

Although they’re not the menace to the environment that the plastic ones are, paper bags are also harmful. According to several studies, their production emits greenhouse gases. And the United Kingdom’s Environmental Agency found that a shopper would have to reuse a paper shopping bag at least three times to make it environmentally friendly — but too often, the bags are thrown away after one use and dumped into landfills, where they take years to decompose.

In Long Beach, plastic bag use has dropped by 75 percent, according to a city spokesman, and paper bag use declined by 89 percent after the city enacted a 5-cent fee on both in 2017. Kudos to the City Council for a measure whose benefits should be beyond debate.

But Nassau Republicans have refused to consider any such moves, calling bag fees a tax that would place a financial burden on county residents. Their logic doesn’t add up. If shoppers used 10 paper bags per week, they would spend $26 in a year. For that money, they could buy more than enough reusable bags to keep at home and in the back of their cars. Nicolello is correct that Nassau is one of the most expensive places to live — however, we believe most county residents can afford a one-time, $26 expense to stock up on reusable bags.

And the state legislation includes exemptions for those who can’t — those on food stamps or other types of assistance. The fees others pay will also help them out, too, because 2 out of every 5 cents will go into a fund with which counties can purchase reusable bags, which can be given to those who need them but can’t pay for them.

The County Legislature’s building is named for Roosevelt, and there’s a statue of him outside. Nicolello should look to his workplace’s namesake for guidance on this important issue.

In a letter to his daughter Ethel, Roosevelt wrote that there was no place in the world like home, Sagamore Hill — “Where things are our own . . . and where it is real country.” To help protect the natural beauty of Sagamore Hill, and the rest of Nassau County, Republicans must enact a fee on paper bags. To not do so would be to mar what nature has provided.