Pa. sued for blocking plastic bag ban, accused of ‘doing the dirty work for the plastics industry’

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia and three other Pennsylvania municipalities sued the state on Wednesday for what they say was a covert abuse of legislative power to block local bans or taxes on plastic bags that retailers distribute to customers and, say -they end up polluting and littering.

The lawsuit asks the statewide Commonwealth Court to declare the state ban unconstitutional. The other plaintiffs are West Chester, Narberth and Lower Merion Township, all located in suburban Philadelphia.

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

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

More broadly, conservationists have pushed for bans to reduce pressure on landfills, limit pollution of oceans, waterways and forests, and prevent harm to wildlife.

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, accused the legislature of using a “secret, illegal and clandestine process to push through a controversial policy” that disempowers local governments.

“It’s nothing more than our elected officials doing the dirty work for the plastics industry, and that’s the single worst influence of special interest in our political process,” Masur said at a press conference with Philadelphia city officials.

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A one-year ban was sponsored by then-Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Center, originally slipped into a broader 69-page budget bill during closed-door negotiations with the Governor Tom Wolf, without any public hearing, and adopted and signed within two days of publication.

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

At the time, Corman said he asked for a review and a temporary ban because his district includes a plastic manufacturer — Hilex, a subsidiary of Novolex, in Milesburg — and a municipality that was considering a levy on plastic bags. plastic.

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

Corman then said the studies had not been completed due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus. The studies emerged 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 Committee on Budget and Finance, 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 fall by 1.6 billion a year as retailers shift to paper bags or heavier plastic bags, while some consumers would buy more trash bags and end up spending $70. million more.

Data suggests Pennsylvanians use 4.6 billion plastic bags a year, he said.

At the time, Corman said the bans “wouldn’t have the positive environmental impact that people want, but will negatively impact our local economies.”

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

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According to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Philadelphia passed a ban on single-use plastic bags in December 2019. City officials delayed its implementation amid COVID-19 restrictions, as did some states, but it plans to put it into effect later This 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.

Business liaisons in the city said they believe reducing plastic bags on the street, 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, pointing to the New York ban. “When you go to New York, you notice there are no plastic bags floating around. They’re all gone.

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

Bryce K. Locke