In an interesting twist, Los Angeles County is the new statewide leader on breaking Californians’ 19-billion-a-year addiction to single-use shopping bags. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 today to ban plastic and paper bags in unincorporated areas of the county and allow grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores to charge a dime for green paper bags. The ordinance is the farthest-reaching bag ban ordinance in California and should result in a 600 million-bag-a-year reduction in the county.
County staff had taken a methodical and meticulous course to this precedent-setting decision. First, they gave the plastic bag manufacturing industry a few years to back up their claims that recycling can stop the plastic bag pollution plague. That program has proven to be an epic environmental failure. County Public Works staff, noting the recycling program debacle, slowly moved forward with a ban. Due to successful “Save the Plastic Bag Coalition” litigation against Manhattan Beach (led largely by American Chemistry Council members and plastic bag manufacturers), the county developed an Environmental Impact Report that went above and beyond typical California Environmental Quality Act requirements.
And the supervisors decided to ban single-use plastic, bioplastic and paper bags because of successful polluter litigation against Oakland. The greenhouse gas argument used in the Oakland and Manhattan Beach litigation doesn’t wash when all single-use bags are banned.
Despite the county’s caution, count on the plastic polluters to sue. Their poster child, Stephen Joseph, Esq., brought out spurious arguments at the hearing about lead-contaminated bags. The county was a step ahead. Reusable bags cannot contain lead, cadmium or other heavy metals in toxic amounts.
Opponents brought out the Petri dish argument that reusable bags harbor all sorts of pathogens and will jeopardize public health. The county beat them on that as well, as the bags must be machine washable or manufactured to withstand cleaning and disinfection. Also, the polluters brought out the specter of Prop. 26 and argued that the green paper bag cost is actually a fee. The assertions are ludicrous because the retailers keep 100% of the revenues generated from the sale of the green paper bag, so how could it be a fee?
In the end, the same tactics that killed AB 1998 at the last minute in Sacramento this summer backfired at the Hall of Administration. I’m glad the polluters don’t know their audience. Anyone that thinks that the Board of Supervisors can be intimidated by litigation threats has never dealt with the county.
Unlike the state legislature, incumbent supervisors never lose an election and they have long term limits (12 years). Thus they can make decisions based on their own personal positions, and corporate cash influencing potential future employment or elections doesn’t play a role.
With the county, you have five powerful, strong and opinionated leaders with different viewpoints that represent approximately 10 million people. In this case, the majority of the board – Yaroslavsky, Ridley-Thomas and Molina — all exerted major influence and the end result is a bag ban that serves as a model for Los Angeles County cities, California and the nation.
The county is the first domino to fall despite the chemical and plastic industry dropping millions in lobbying and litigation costs in California. The successful fight to pass bans in San Francisco and Malibu seem like a distant memory. The question is: Which domino will fall next in the region? Will it be the city of Los Angeles? Santa Monica? Long Beach? Pasadena? Culver City? Or some other city?
With today’s action, the county has blazed the trail that the rest of the state and nation needs to follow. And the good news is that its EIR can apply to any local municipality. So all any progressive really needs to do is follow the Supes’ shining example.
Filed under: Environmental Governance, Environmental Leaders, Heal the Bay, Marine Debris, Plastic, Water Quality Tagged: | Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Marine Debris, Plastic Bags, plastic pollution, reusable bags