Plastic Bag Ban: Chemical Industry Targets Lawmakers

This story comes courtesy of California Watch.

By Timothy Sandoval

Just as the state Legislature ends its 2010 session with a flurry of major bills, lawmakers are being bombarded with a TV ad campaign mocking them for a proposed ban on plastic bags in grocery stores.

"California is in trouble ... 2.3 million unemployed ... $19 million deficit ... What are some Sacramento politicians focused on?" the announcer asks.

"Grocery bags."

The ad is part of a last-minute campaign commissioned by the American Chemistry Council, a group that represents the interests of chemical companies, including 80 percent of companies around the country that produce plastic bags. Five manufacturing companies in California make up the list.

Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who authored the bill, recently told KABC News about the campaign: "I've never witnessed this kind of opposition to a bill."

The bill would prohibit grocery stores from providing single-use plastic bags and would allow stores to charge 5 cents per bag - or higher - for paper bags if consumers do not bring in their own reusable bags.

The American Chemistry Council's ad campaign has been airing only in Sacramento - clearly targeting lawmakers trapped in the capital city for the end of the session.

The Council also has launched a website called Stop the Bag Police, devoted to opposing the bill, AB 1998. And, as the Sacramento Bee reported, the group has donated to the campaigns of select lawmakers in anticipation of a vote on the bill.

"California has real problems, including a huge budget deficit, home foreclosures, and millions of workers without jobs," states the Stop the Bag Police website. "Lawmakers should be working on real problems, not wasting their time on legislation to tell us how to bag our own groceries."

Linda Rapattoni, press secretary for Brownley, said the American Chemistry Council's campaign is designed to spread fear. "I think it's a sign that they are panicking that single-use plastic bag bans will spread throughout the country," she said.

The chemical industry has fought laws that would reduce plastic bag use before. It spent $1.4 million in 2009 to fight a Seattle ordinance that levied a 20-cent surcharge designed to reduce plastic bag use.

The Council would not disclose how much money it has spent on the California television ads or the website. But earlier this year, the trade group spent $243,776 in lobbying expenses to work against, among other bills, the plastic bag ban, according to disclosure reports.

The Council says the bill would kill 1,000 manufacturing jobs, levy $1 billion in a "hidden tax" for consumers and create a new bureaucracy worth millions to oversee the law.

Rapattoni said the the facts and figures the Council cites are false. She said the bill does not create a new bureaucracy at all, and she questioned the number of jobs that would be lost.

"First they said it was 500, and now it's 1,000," Rapattoni said. "I don't know where they are getting these numbers from."

The $1 billion "hidden tax" was calculated by multiplying the 19 billion plastic bags that California consumers use each year by 5 cents, the proposed price of a paper bag, under the assumption that people would not switch to bringing reusable bags to grocery stores.

The American Chemistry Council says the number is justified because in San Francisco, where a plastic bag ban was implemented, most consumers did not switch to bringing a reusable bag.

The bill is in the Senate Rules Committee for amendments and must be passed by legislative deadline on Tuesday.

Here is the ad in question: