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New York environmental groups push lawmakers to pass bill banning microbeads

The Microbead-Free Waters Act, a state bill banning micro-plastics in consumer care products, would appear to be a cinch to take effect Jan. 1, 2016. The math adds up.

It passed the Assembly 139-1. In the State Senate, where 32 votes are needed for passage, it has 37 co-sponsors.

But state environmental groups are crossing fingers that one of their top legislative priorities isn’t washed down the drain of Albany politics for the second straight June when lawmakers end their session Wednesday.

What gives?

“The nature of Albany dysfunction has held it up,” said Brian Smith, associate executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

It’s why environmental organizations are girding for a final last-minute push on state lawmakers.

Twenty-eight environmental groups signed onto a letter Friday urging the New York Senate to consider the bill banning micro-plastics from cosmetics and other personal products.

The letter to State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, and Sen. Thomas F. O’Mara, R-Elmira, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, expressed “strong support” for the bill and urged the Senate “to schedule a floor vote on this important bill before departing Albany on June 17.”

The letter’s co-signers include Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group, Western New York Environmental Alliance, Buffalo Audubon Society, and Alliance for the Great Lakes among others.

“Plastic microbead pollution is insidious – it doesn’t degrade like natural materials and persists for decades, if not centuries, in our environment,” said Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter. “Perhaps more insidious is the fact that we have a strong legislative solution to the problem, with majority co-sponsorship, that can’t get a Senate floor vote because of industry pressure and money.”

Lobbyists against the bill have represented Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Reckitt Benckiser, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Personal Care Products Council and others, according to state Joint Commission on Public Ethics records.

Last year, the Assembly and State Senate couldn’t come to terms on the language of the law. This year, the bill, introduced by State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, rolled through the Assembly in April with near-unanimous support. Supporters said the bill would pass the Senate if brought to the floor just with its co-sponsors alone.

Instead, they allege, O’Mara introduced a competing bill that critics regarded as a watered-down “pro-industry” version rife with loopholes. It almost received a vote on the Senate floor late last month before it was pulled.

“We have to take action immediately,” said Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who co-sponsored the Assembly bill in the Senate. “The Senate has to take leadership and move this legislation immediately before the session winds down.”

News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report. email: tpignataro@buffnews.com