State Senate: Industry Bagmen

The state Senate failed our urban waterways, such as the trash-strewn Compton Creek.

By now you’ve heard the horrible news that AB 1998, which would’ve banned single-use plastic bags at supermarkets and other selected retailers statewide, went down to defeat by a 21-14 vote in the California state Senate last night.  The bill garnered global attention as the world waited to see if the so-called Golden State could once again lead the way on environmental protection and sustainability. The Heal the Bay-sponsored measure also received unprecedented coalition support  from grocers, retailers, unions, cities, counties, and environmental groups. But the vote wasn’t close. 

Our staff and supporters worked round the clock to pass the bill, and it didn’t even matter.  Thousands of people called or wrote their state senators in support, and it didn’t even matter. Our ad agency partners at DDB crafted the brilliant “The Majestic Life of the Plastic Bag” mockumentary, which hundreds of thousands of people viewed, and it didn’t matter. The state’s elected leadership — Gov. Schwarzenegger, Senate pro-tem Steinberg and Speaker Perez — supported the bill, and it didn’t even matter.

With such an unprecedented organization effort, how did the bill fail so miserably?

It would be easy to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the polluters, the American Chemistry Council, which represents bag manufacturers. After all, they poured millions of dollars into a multimedia disinformation campaign to oppose the bill.  Also, they lined the pockets of numerous legislators that ended up opposing the measure.

The ACC, as a polluter, did whatever was necessary to protect their clients’ ability to produce plastic bags, the scourge of the world’s oceans. Special interests’ influence over the legislature is hardly news.  It is more of a story when the legislature exerts leadership and votes with a conscience.

To me, the whole debacle demonstrates just how dysfunctional the state legislature has become.  The fact that the Governor, Speaker and Pro-Tem couldn’t deliver a win on an issue that’s garnered global attention demonstrates the level of gridlock in the legislature.  Bold innovation is not rewarded.  Leadership is ineffective.  The days of Willie Brown and John Burton successfully imposing their will on legislative votes are but a distant memory.  Laws that protect the special interests at the expense of the public pass routinely.  No wonder we still don’t have a state budget in September.

Opposition arguments last night were straight out of Lewis Carroll.  We had Sen. Sam Aanestad oppose the bill on environmental grounds, including greenhouse gas emissions.  I’m guessing that he wasn’t one of Fran Pavley’s co-authors on AB 32, California’s climate change initiative.

Speaking of AB 32 authors, look at one of the ACC’s hired guns — none other than Fabian Nunez, past Speaker of the Assembly.  Because he is clearly no friend of urban rivers or marine life, can he return all of the environmental awards he received for that effort?

Sen.  Lois Wolk argued that it was better for California to allow local governments to come up with their own ordinances to reduce plastic bag litter.  I’m pretty sure that the grocers and retailers aren’t too thrilled by the prospect of 60+ different municipal and county bag ban and fee ordinances.  Also, Wolk argued for a fee or rebate-type program.  I don’t recall her championing our failed bag fee bill the previous two years.

Even worse than those that spoke in opposition? The group of senators that opposed and remained silent.  Local state Sens. Curren Price and Gloria Romero held major swing votes.  Support should have been easy for them because it is well known that bag bans are likely to move forward in their districts at the regional level.  A level playing field statewide would have helped businesses in their district.  Unconscionably, despite hundreds of support calls to their offices, Price and Romero opposed the bill without providing any cogent reasons.

These are the 21 senators that condemned sea turtles, fish and marine mammals to continued hazardous conditions: Aanestad, Ashburn, Calderon, Codgill, Correa, Denham, Ducheny, Dutton, Emerson, Florez, Harman, Hollingsworth, Huff, Negrete McLeod, Price, Romero, Runner, Walters, Wolk, Wright and Wyland. 

Please remember these names.  They are not friends of the marine environment and should be held accountable for their actions.  Please write them or call them and tell them you’re upset by their anti-environmental vote.  Feel free to mail them your plastic bags as well.

The coalition’s efforts were not rewarded last night, but they will be rewarded in the near future.  Our efforts moved the needle on social change dramatically.  The days of plastic bags at grocery and retail stores are numbered.  This became a national story.  Even a global one. This was the most controversial bill in the legislature. We can’t rely on the state political system to effect the change we need, namely an end to the marine debris crisis.

As for Heal the Bay, look for us to continue working with the environmental coalition to enact plastic bag bans on the local government level.  Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County have all publicly committed to moving forward with bag bans. Long Beach and Pasadena have expressed interest as well. 

Our efforts to ban bags have been delayed, but we won’t stop until they become forgotten relics of past societal excess.

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14 Responses

  1. […] the Bay’s Blog, Spouting Off , identifies the 21 senators who nixed AB 1998.  Here’s what Spouting Off writes: Please remember […]

  2. […] reading: State Senate: Industry Bagmen – Mark Gold’s autopsy on the death of the AB1998 – a statewide ban […]

  3. […] (Sadly, the same legislative session, where AB2554 passed, also saw the disgraceful demise of the AB1998 – a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. For coverage of that betrayal, I highly recommend Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold’s Spouting Off article State Senate: Industry Bagmen.) […]

  4. Four days later and I’m still feeling the AB 1998 hangover. These supposed leaders need to be held accountable and those who care about the marine debris problem have to charge even harder.

  5. Mark,

    I’ll take on Romero. She is a teacher at USC. I will suggest everyone on campus drop of their bags to her. Figth on!


  6. […] on the failure of the California legislature to pass a bill banning single-use plastic bags, “State senate: Industry bagmen,” Spouting Off, September 1, […]

  7. I say let’s start a bill to do away with lobbying & lobbyists entirely, both statewide and nationally. Surely the majority of Americans will favor this, and it will be clear which elected officials are truly representing the people. Perhaps then we’ll finally get the real changes in government that our society seeks as a whole of individuals.

  8. […] reporters such as Steve Lopez, he was penning what eventually did come up on Spouting Off, “State Senate: Industry Bagmen,” a response whose coolest moment may have been the suggestion that we send Senators […]

  9. […] In his post about AB 1998′s defeat, environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay’s president Mark Gold names and shames the California state senators who voted against the bill — and urges environmentalists to vote those senators out: These […]

  10. The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Instead of demonizing those who voted against the measure — perhaps you should listen too and address the many concerns that were raised about the legislation. But — rather than address the concerns — they were routinely dismissed and ignored. That’s not how a democracy works. Instead of “imposing your will” try to negotiate a compromise that will accomplish your goals (cleaning the environment) while addressing the concerns of all involved. The sponsors of this legislation failed to do that. If you’re looking to place blame for the demise of this legislation — I suggest you take a good, long look in the mirror. Legislation is about the art of compromise. Demonizing will get you nowhere.

    • Hey Bill,

      The legislation WAS a total compromise and addressed all concerns that were raised by the cooperative opposition. The remaining ‘uncooperative opposition’ faction killed it because they are whores for the ACC.

      The bill changed dramatically up to the last minute including compromises on: the definition of reusable bag; funds for local plastic bag manufacturers to retool factories; the ability of retailers to sell paper bags at cost

      These are all examples of major compromises that were made in response to comments on the bill.

      Try to get your facts straight before you comment on something, and wake up and realize that a democracy doesn’t ‘work’ when state senators work for lobbyists instead of for the public interest.

      • Hey Mike,

        You’re wrong. The legislation failed because it wasn’t a compromise. If it had passed — and had been amended to resolve the concerns of all parties involved — it would have passed.

        It didn’t pass because there was no “total compromise” and it failed.

        Secondly — supporters had plenty of time to pass this legislation out — but instead took up the budget on the final day of Legislative Session. Six or seven hours that could have been used to work on legislation like the plastic bag ban — was instead wasted on a pointless exercise because everyone knew there was no budget agreement.

        Thirdly — the supporters of this legislation put forth or supported 35-40 gut and amend bills in the final days of legislative session — which again wasted valuable time that could have been better spent on debating this one bill.

        I suggest that you need to bone up a bit on learning the Legislative Process — and what exactly took place earlier this week.

        Then — you might understand. Instead — you fall back on “Demonize.” That never works. Never has. Never will.


  11. Hi Mark, I’m disappointed the ban failed. I just wrote this petition that people can sign on’s environment blog (I’m the editor) to express their disappointment at the American Chemistry Council for its anti-ban lobbying not just in California but all around the country.

    It makes sense that you lay real responsibility at the feet of the dysfunctional Senate. I’m from New York, so I hear ya. Still, I think it would be useful for the ACC to hear from people all around the country on this issue.

  12. […] of Lewis Carroll,” writes a disgusted Heal the Bay president and bill co-sponsor Mark Gold in Spouting Off. To read in the Sacramento Bee how the American Chemistry Council, whose members include Exxon, […]

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