Lobbyists battle plastic bag ban

FILE: Women shoppers walk with plastic bags Tuesday, March 27, 2007, in the Chinatown district of San Francisco. (AP)

August 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The way Californians carry their groceries away from the store is at the center of an intense debate in the hallways and offices of lawmakers in Sacramento. The issue is over a measure to restrict the use of plastic bags -- legislation that has brought out a fierce response from lobbyists.

The American Chemistry Council is working hard to convince lawmakers to reject the proposal to ban plastic bags in California by Tuesday, the last day of the Legislative year. The council is ratcheting up the pressure, even hiring more lobbying firms to ensure its defeat.

"We need to get our message out; this is a big issue," council spokesperson Tim Shestek said. "This has ramifications beyond California if it were to pass here. We make a product that we think has a good environmental footprint, that's fully recyclable, that's being demonized by folks on the other side."

The bill's author realizes it is the closing days of session with lobbyists typically cramming Capitol hallways to protect their interests, but this campaign is unusual.

"I've never witnessed this kind of opposition to a bill," Assm. Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, said.

Californians use 19 billion plastic bags a year. A ban would put a dent in demand, forcing consumers to bring their own bag or pay 5 cents for a paper one.

Environmentalists lament the litter the bags cause. Only a small fraction of plastic bags actually get recycled. Experts estimate it takes at least 1,000 years for a standard plastic bag to breakdown in a landfill.

Now, environmentalists worry the new campaign by the chemical industry will derail their years-long effort.

"I am concerned that this heavy-handed and basically misleading tactic on behalf of the chemical industry is going to sway a certain number of votes," Californians Against Waste spokesperson Mark Murray said.

The fate of plastic bag ban now rests in the state Senate.

Two Democrats, who would have likely assured passage with their 'yes' votes, are absent due to serious health problems.