Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a bill Monday that would have imposed a 5-cent fee on all single-use bags supplied by merchants, opening the way for an outright ban on single-use plastic bags statewide.

Many environmental groups celebrated, saying the fee bill was just a money grab by the state — 4 cents of every fee would have gone to state coffers — and would not cut down enough on plastic bag pollution.

But others, including New Jersey Audubon, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and the N.J. Association of Environmental Commissions, saw the veto as a lost opportunity. They don’t know if there are enough votes in the Legislature to pass a ban bill.

The bag-fee bill passed narrowly in June.

“In a state that uses at least 4.4 billion plastic bags a year, there is no time to waste,” said Audubon’s Sandra Meola, testifying in favor of the fee bill before a joint legislative committee last week. “Studies show that (bag) fees are effective in curbing bag use and changing behavior.”

Audubon and others would have preferred a conditional veto to make changes to the bill, such as increasing the fee, allocating a portion of it to litter abatement, removing a bag thickness loophole, and no longer pre-empting towns and counties from passing their own bag bans.

The veto was met with disappointment by the New Jersey Food Council, which represents 1,200 retail food stores, wholesalers, manufacturing and service companies.

“We believe the proposed fee on single use bags was the most impactful solution to reducing both paper and plastic bags in our solid waste stream and a giant first step toward a plastic bag ban,” the group said in a statement Monday. “We … stand ready to roll up our sleeves and develop a viable bag program for N.J. in the coming months.”

Groups such as New Jersey Sierra Club, Clean Ocean Action and Surfrider Foundation are lobbying for Senate bill S2776, which would ban plastic bags, Styrofoam and plastic straws from being used by most businesses.

Murphy vetoed A3267, saying in his veto statement the fee bill was well-intentioned, but “the time has come for a more robust and comprehensive method of reducing the number of single-use bags in our state.”

He called plastic bags in particular a major source of litter that mars the state’s shoreline and parks and can cripple water infrastructure and harm wildlife.

Last week, a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee considered how to address plastic waste, and Murphy said Monday he would work with the Legislature to craft more comprehensive solutions to the issue.

Audubon’s Meola said Boulder, Colorado implemented a 10-cent bag fee and after six months bag use declined 68 percent. Chicago’s plastic bag use fell by 42 percent a month after a 7-cent fee was enacted; and a year after Washington, D.C., implemented a 5-cent fee in 2010, bag use declined by 60 percent.

In South Jersey, bag fees were approved through municipal ordinances in Longport and Ventnor, and bag bans have passed in Long Beach Township, Beach Haven, Stafford Township, Avalon and Stone Harbor. Brigantine has introduced a ban ordinance.

Atlantic County recently adopted an ordinance banning plastic bags and straws from its park system.

Contact: 609-272-7219 MPost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

Facebook.com/EnvironmentSouthJersey

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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