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California Legislature Will Reconsider Brownley Bag Ban In 2012 Posted on 14 November 2011

By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

In an interview last week with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, California Progress Report has learned the Santa Monica Democrat plans to fight once more to make California first in the nation to ban single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags.

The legislation likely will mirror AB 1998, the so-called Brownley Bag Ban, that was defeated by the deep pockets of the Virginia-Based American Chemistry Council, Exxon/Mobil and Poly Hilex manufacturing on the floor of the California State Senate, 21-14. A lot of campaign contributions were made the weekend before the bill came before the Senate for the final time.

“I am committed to seeking a statewide ban on single-use bags,” Brownley told CPR. “I have not yet decided whether I will amend AB 298 to do that, or if I will find an alternative method for accomplishing my goal.”

“What I really want to do is move a policy forward that would eliminate plastic bags altogether,” Brownley told CPR. “AB 1998 has been vetted – it’s been fully baked, as we say here in Sacramento, and the architecture of AB 1998 has been used by most of the cities that have started their own recycle program since the Brownley Bag Ban was defeated two years ago.”

AB 1998 was a tough loss for environmental advocacy groups that had fought hard to ban the non-biodegradable bags. Although environmentalists are used to being outspent lobbying in Sacramento, the Brownley Bag Ban may have passed if not for the formidable campaign contributions of the oil and gas and petroleum manufacturing lobbyists. For the most part, both large and small markets and clothing retailers supported the ban.

When the state legislature first debated the issue California had only 6 communities with some sort of single-use or biodegradable bag program. Today, 13 municipalities have some version of the bag ban described in AB 1998, including Unincorporated Los Angeles County and the City of San Jose, each representing more than a million Californians.

Other cities that already have adopted some single-use ban or biodegradable program – Long Beach, San Francisco, Santa Cruz County, Santa Monica, Marin County, Palo Alto, Manhattan Beach, Santa Clara County, Calabasas, Malibu and Fairfax.

About 10% of all California residents currently live under a mandated bag recycling program.

The City of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Monterey , West Hollywood, Culver City, Solana Beach, San Diego County and Davis currently have a single-use bag ordinances in process and are expected to add to the list of other communities with bag bans and recycling programs with the next 12 months.

The goal of Heal the Bay, sponsor of the legislation, is to increase the number of Californians not using the single-use plastic bags to 25% by next year, regardless of the outcome of the proposed new statewide legislation.

During the AB 1998 debate all parties agreed that a single statewide ordinance would be easier for commerce than a community-by-community approach, especially for franchises or chain clothing or supermarkets.

City governments that must search for ways to dispose of the trash produced within their jurisdictions, especially compact, high density, tourism-dependent cities like San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz – find themselves agreeing with the environment advocacy groups supporting the bill in order to protect marine habitat.

California taxpayers spend more than $25 million dollars to collect and bury the 19 Billion single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags we use each year.

Single-use, plastic bags are referred to as “Urban Tumbleweeds,” for their uncanny ability to blow into our parks and plazas, gutters and highway medians, storm drains and sewer systems and eventually to our rivers, bays and oceans where they are mistaken for food (like a jellyfish) and fatally consumed by 267 watched or endangered species like sea turtles, pelicans and Blue Heron.

The turtle shown in the photo here, mistook the plastic bag for food. Despite intense efforts to save it, it succumbed to the ingestion, which twisted and lodged in its digestive tract.

AB 1998 passed the Assembly but with much of the world watching it went before a senate where the winds had changed following blatant, formidable campaign contributions from Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, Exxon/Mobil and Poly Hilex hours before the vote was scheduled to take place.

With 23 available Democratic Senators to vote the legislation needed only 21 votes to pass. What had become the most watched legislation of that legislative session lost- with 21 opposing and 14 supporting.

“We had a great list of supporters and grass-root efforts but there’s only so much you can do when the other side was definitely hiring big-time lobbyists,” said Kirsten James of Heal the Bay, one of the AB 1998 sponsors and now a sponsor of this year’s Brownley bag bill, AB 298. Both Brownley and James appear confident that with the increased number of communities participating, a statewide regulation in 2012 will find the support it lacked in 2010.