Supreme Hope

State's highest court offers hope on bag bans.

The California Supreme court gave the Pacific Ocean hope Thursday by agreeing to hear Manhattan Beach’s appeal on its overturned plastic bag ban. Happy Earth Day indeed!!

The news comes during a week when a dead gray whale was found to have ingested about 20 plastic bags in the Puget Sound area. (No message there for Seattle voters that opposed plastic bag fees at the expense of cetaceans and marine debris.)

The original lawsuit, brought by the eco-terrorists at the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, led to a ruling that Manhattan Beach’s plastic bag ban ordinance did not comply with the environmental review requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Judge Yaffe’s ruling ended up as a de facto requirement that an EIR was needed to ban plastic bags. It cast a potentially chilling shadow on cities’ rights to pass laws without full CEQA review even though the coalition surely wasn’t litigating with environmental protection as a priority. Manhattan Beach appealed the ruling and lost in State Court of Appeals on a 2-1 vote.

The city then petitioned the Supreme Court, where only about one out of every 20 appeals gets heard, and the court ruled on Earth Day that it will hear the case. This time, groups like Californians against Waste, Heal the Bay and numerous cities wrote strong, legal letters of support for MB’s appeal.

Meanwhile, Santa Monica and L.A. County are leaving nothing to chance, and are assembling EIRs on their own plastic bag bans. Santa Monica’s initial study is already out and leaders are on pace to move forward with a long-awaited ban in July. L.A. County is on a similar track, but is a month or two behind. Other cities in the state are aggressively advancing on bans as well.

With the welcome word from the Supreme Court, progress on AB 1998, and local governments moving forward with disposable bag bans and fees, even a cynic like me has optimism that 2010 will mark the year that plastic bags are finally banned in all or much of California.

That would be welcome news for gray whales and the other Pacific marine life that have no choice but to live with our trash.

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