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Harper Featured in The San Diego Union-Tribune

No on Prop. 67: Bag ban brings higher costs, no benefits

By: Matthew Harper

October 26, 2016, 3:00 p.m.

I am often asked about my strong opposition to plastic bag bans. Won’t it reduce litter? Can’t people just bring reusable bags?

With San Diego having passed a plastic bag ban ordinance in July and other nearby cities considering the issue, I want to share what happened when I was mayor of Huntington Beach in 2013 and 2014.

We saw firsthand how the bag ban provided no benefits to the environment and only taxed residents on bags that used to be free. That is why the City Council rightfully voted to end the two-year ordinance that banned plastic bags.

However, thanks to an “alliance” of environmental activists, grocers and labor unions who struck a backroom deal with legislators in August 2014, the whole state may very soon be subject to a bag ban if Senate Bill 270 is not overturned by voters in November. If I had been in the Assembly at the time this bill was passed, I would have strongly opposed this legislation. One reason is that SB 270 threatens jobs.

Bag ban supporters claim that this bill provides enough money to “retool” and “retrain” workers to make a different product. But the measly $2 million allocated for this purpose is barely enough money to cover one-half of a new production line in one factory.

Let’s discuss the “effect” plastic bags have on the environment. The misguided special interests who support SB 270 argue that plastic shopping bags end up on streets and beaches and are harmful to wildlife. However, these claims are not supported by science.

The truth is, according to Environmental Resources Planning, a professional firm that conducts litter studies, plastic retail bags typically represent less than 1 percent of litter and 0.3 percent of waste collected in the United States, so the environmental benefits of banning them will be negligible.

American-made plastic retail bags are 100 percent recyclable and reused by 90 percent of people. Under SB 270, the “reusable” bags that retailers will be forced to sell are five times thicker versions of the banned bags and studies have shown that most people reuse bags without cleaning them, making them a health hazard. So SB 270 means more plastic, more bacteria and more money coming out of consumers’ pockets to pay bag taxes that would give corporate grocers huge profits.

The reality is a statewide bag ban won’t solve any of the problems proponents say it will. Huntington Beach was no better because of the bag ban.

Instead, the proposed bag ban and tax scam will cost hardworking California taxpayers millions of dollars and threaten thousands of jobs, without any environmental benefit. At the same time, grocers will be charging consumers a minimum 10 cents for every bag sold. If grocers in California had decided to implement this charge on their own, it would be price fixing, but because it happened at the state government level, it’s legal.

I believe California voters deserve the opportunity to learn the truth about this flawed legislation. However, in the event that SB 270 goes into law, voters will also have the opportunity to vote on another ballot measure, Proposition 65, which would require all money generated or collected for the sale of carryout bags be directed to a fund to pay for projects that will actually benefit the environment.

The measure also allows those local governments who already have a ban in place to redirect bag fees to the same state environmental fund.

Voters have the chance to stand up to bad policy and repeal the bag ban with a no vote on Proposition 67, while also making it clear that bag fees should go toward a public purpose with a yes vote on Prop 65. Otherwise, Californians will quite literally pay and corporate grocers will be the only ones to benefit.

Harper, a Republican who represents the 74th Assembly District in the Legislature, is the former mayor of Huntington Beach.

Copyright © 2016, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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