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County, federal microbead bans require reconciliation

File photo

There is something of a Constitutional confrontation underway between Washington and Erie County regarding recently-passed bans on microbeads in personal care products.

Erie County outlawed the tiny plastic beads last year and the law takes effect February 14. After that, lawmakers in Washington outlawed microbeads in a ban that takes effect in July of 2017. 

It's something taught in school: federal laws take precedence over local laws, preempting them. That means there is a push on to reverse the county ban and wait for the federal law to take effect. A law firm representing a major Washington lobby saying that is what has to happen.

But Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo says it might not happen immediately.

"We received a number of inquiries from people in the industry about our law being not compatible with federal law and they asked us to preempt our law by rescinding it so the federal law, which they believe is more comprehensive, would take precedence, which it would anyway," Lorigo said.

The ban had two county Legislature sponsors, with Chairman John Mills seeking to rescind now and Legislator Patrick Burke taking the opposite position. Burke says the ban should stay in place.

"The legislation did two things: it protected our waterways and it also nudged the state and federal governments to take action. It was the first local law in the country. It was one of the most comprehensive laws in the country. It really put a lot of pressure on the feds to actually take action. It did its job there. So, why would we take away its other goal, which is to protect our waterways? If we pull it back now, we're leaving them open to pollutants," Burke said.

Subsequent to Erie County's ban, Chautauqua County also outlawed microbeads. The question goes to a Legislature committee next Thursday.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.