Nearly 40 years ago, Oregon began to solidify its reputation as an environmental pioneer with the introduction of the famed Bottle Bill. Now, we’re making headlines again for potentially being the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags in grocery stores and retail shops.
Environmentally, it would be a bold move for the state, given the fact that plastic bags fill our landfills without ever decomposing and drive up costs for recyclers. (Because so many people mistakenly throw plastic bags into curbside recycling bins, the bags gum up recycling machinery and have to be cleaned out.)
But it’s also ticked off a small group of people who make a lot of money off of the plastic bag industry. And you know what that means—The Invasion of the Out-Of-State Corporate Lobbyists!
Banning plastic grocery sacks has been on the Oregon Legislature’s docket for several years. Since 2009, proponents have made their case across the state – locally and in the legislature. The issue had its first hearing for this year’s legislative session on Tuesday.
Enter the Washington, DC-based American Chemistry Council, which isn’t, we were bummed to discover, an association of high school science teachers, but is, in fact, a lobbying group for the plastics industry.
The American Chemistry Council has spent more than $85,000 on lobbying against the plastic bag ban since 2009 (not including the current session), and as reported by Willamette Week donated $1,000 each to 15 key lawmakers from both parties before last year’s election.
Last month, according to the Oregonian, a “mystery poll” was conducted among Oregon residents, seemingly as an attempt to test negative opinions on the ban. Pollsters asked participants questions clearly slanted against the ban, including whether participants would rather the Legislature protect the economy, build jobs or ban plastic bags. Misconceptions such as the “bag police pursuing Oregonians” and the idea that there are harmful contaminates in reusable bags, were also used.
Questions in the poll also suggested that grocers would make millions in profits by charging 5 cents for a paper checkout bag. That question must not have polled well, because opponents have recently changed their talking points. A recent post on the conservative Oregon Catalyst blog by American Chemistry Council rep Tim Shestek talks about the supposed hardship small grocers and convenience stores would face if forced to buy paper bags. (Note: The Northwest Grocers Association and other grocery lobbyists are in favor of the bill.)
Opponents were also represented by someone from Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the DC-based lobbying group. (Norquist is nationally famous for saying he wants to drown government in a bathtub, but his biggest impact on Oregon so far has been giving Bill Sizemore his start in initiative politics. Thanks for that one, Grover!)
Tuesday was just the first hearing of what will probably be a long path through the state legislature for the bag ban. (We hope the out-of-state lobbyists enjoy their stay in Oregon. May we suggest a hike through Silver Falls State Park? If you happen to see any stray plastic bags fluttering along the ground, could you stop to pick ‘em up?)
If you want to track the bill’s progress, the Oregonian has set up a tracker here: http://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/2011/SB536/