Pa. Sued for blocking the ban on plastic bags, accused of “doing the dirty work for the plastics industry”

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PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia and three other Pennsylvania municipalities sued the state on Wednesday over what they called a secret abuse of legislative power to block local bans or taxes on plastic bags that retailers hand out to customers and, say they end up in pollution and rubbish.

The lawsuit asks the Commonwealth of State Court to declare the state’s ban unconstitutional. The other complainants are West Chester, Narberth and Lower Merion Township, all located in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

City officials, backed by environmental organizations, say the state’s ban violates the state’s constitutional environmental rights and that the procedures used to enact the provision violate transparency protections in the constitution of the state.

Meanwhile, their towns and villages are suffering from the health, environmental, aesthetic and financial implications of plastic bag waste and pollution, they say.

More generally, conservationists have pushed for bans to ease pressure on landfills, limit pollution of oceans, waterways and forests, and prevent damage to wildlife.

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, accused the legislature of using a “secret, illegal, behind-the-scenes process to push through a controversial policy” that robs local governments of power.

“It is nothing more than our elected officials doing the dirty work for the plastics industry, and this represents the worst influence of vested interests in our political process,” Masur said at a press conference with city ​​officials in Philadelphia.

A one-year ban was sponsored by then Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Center. signed within two days of publication.

The provision banned municipal bans or taxes on plastic bags or packaging for one year while legislative agencies were to study the economic and environmental impact.

At the time, Corman said he requested a study and a temporary ban because his district includes a plastics maker – Hilex, a subsidiary of Novolex, in Milesburg – and a municipality that was considering a levy on plastic bags.

The ban was extended last May, again inserted in sweeping budget legislation negotiated behind closed doors. The ban now lasts until July 1 or six months after the governor lifted the COVID-19 state of emergency declaration, whichever is later.

Corman then said the studies were not completed due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus. The studies began in June.

Corman’s office had not been served and declined to comment on the lawsuit on Wednesday. Wolf’s office declined to comment.

One of the studies, conducted by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, concluded that plastic bags were not a major source of pollution for municipalities in Pennsylvania.

Another, by the Independent Fiscal Office, said demand for lightweight plastic bags would drop 1.6 billion annually, as retailers shift to heavier paper bags or plastic bags, while some consumers would buy more trash bags and end up spending $ 70. millions more.

The data suggests that Pennsylvanians use 4.6 billion plastic bags per year, he said.

At the time, Corman said the bans “would not have the positive environmental impact people want, but will have a negative impact on our local economies.”

In 2017, Wolf vetoed a bill to stop counties and municipalities from banning plastic bags. Novolex warned that the veto could make Pennsylvania less competitive and hurt workers.

Ten states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – and several major cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York, have approved a ban on plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Philadelphia passed a single-use plastic bag ban in December 2019. City officials have delayed its implementation due to COVID-19 restrictions, like some states, but plans to implement it later this year. year.

Narberth and West Chester also passed bans, while Lower Merion officials said they had hoped to do the same but were blocked by the state.

Conservationists say Philadelphia uses nearly a billion single-use plastic bags each year.

The city’s trade links said they believe reducing plastic bags on the streets, which contributes to the nickname “Filthadelphia”, will help attract tourists and visitors.

“The goal is to get people to bring their own bags. … The cuts would be almost immediate, ”said Logan Welde, director of legislative affairs for the Clean Air Council, highlighting the New York City ban. “When you go to New York, you notice that there are no plastic bags floating around. They are all gone.

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Claudia Lauer and Marc Levy of The Associated Press wrote this story. Levy reported from Harrisburg.


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