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THE CITY COUNCIL HAS ONE MORE STEP TO TAKE BEFORE BEFORE THE BAG TAX IS LAW: WE URGE A MODIFICATION

Readers may recall we stated our opposition in this space to this tax in our February editorial. We have not changed our view. However, we have no wish to beat a dead horse into mush and we do recognize that, thanks to the measure having been unanimously passed on its first reading on June 2nd, it is most unlikely that it will fail when voted on during second reading at the next Council session.

Yet, the point of subjecting legislation to a second reading procedure prior to final passage is for the purpose of at least allowing for new facts or considerations of policy to provide an opportunity to refine a measure — to make the final, enacted legislation better than what it might have been had there not been this “second bite of the apple.”

So, it is in this spirit that we urge the Council to consider removing paper bags from the force of this soon-to-be enacted law.

In reading all the discussions leading up to the introduction of the legislation and the stated rationale for its necessity, what is most apparent is that the legislative purpose is to clean up the polluted Anacostia River — polluted in a significant manner by the multitude of plastic grocery and other food sales bags that seemingly make their way through the city’s storm sewers into the Anacostia and then on to the Potomac and then eventually to the Chesapeake Bay and finally the Atlantic.

(Not acknowledged by many of the commentators, unfortunately, was the question of why DC residents must shoulder the entire responsibility. It seems as if our council members are unaware that the state of Maryland occupies a significant portion of the Anacostia’s eastern bank. Is there something in the Maryland air that causes plastic bags to evaporate?)

If there is any doubt that the legislative purpose of the bag tax is for pollution control, one simply needs to consider the bill’s title — “Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act.”

As Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans so eloquently stated during debate, “The fact is our country is becoming inundated with plastic bags and plastic bottles. . . . This is the first step to try to address this issue.”

Notice the emphasis: plastic — not paper. So why are paper bags also included in the new tax scheme? Since the bill also requires that paper bags used by grocery stores and sellers of food be biodegradable we fail to see why paper is lumped in with plastic. The plastic is a genuine problem; it will last forever, but the paper will disappear like any other botanically-based thing and will not harm the environment unless the paper products are infused with nasty chemicals; but the Council has addressed that issue with its biodegradable requirement.

We think there will be far less resistance to the new tax if it applies only to plastic and not paper also. People understand the problem with the plastic; a measure to limit paper, as we have noted, just doesn’t seem to pass muster. And, when people start to realize that this measure might well be the beginning of more to come they will be even more unhappy. Already, as the Evans quote implies, plastic bottles and containers could be next — and with respect to those, we consumers really have no control whatsoever.

We also urge that the Council add a provision that would allow for penalties against retailers who try to scam shoppers by charging a nickel per bag claiming it is the law even when the new law specifically exempts a whole list of plastic and paper bags and wrappers. Included are bags used for laundry and dry cleaning, garbage and yard waste; pet poop; bags provided by pharmacies and drug stores; bags for wrapping frozen foods and vegetables, candies, nuts, etc. purchased in bulk and bags used to carry unwrapped prepared foods or baked goods.

With all these exceptions that the average shopper will not understand there is much possibility of being charged when not required and the merchant simply keeping the modest bonanzas which will add up to a tidy sum in only a short time.

So, these are our two proposals for improving the bill before final passage on second reading day.