As you gear up for Earth Day 2018, we have an idea: Keep it local. If the current administration won’t act on pollution, look to your state. When that doesn’t work, try to your city. If that fails, pledge to go green in your household, building, or block.
Sometimes, that’s the only way to win on environmental issues. In many cities and coastal towns, you’ll see lawmakers pass legislation to reduce plastic bag use or get gas-guzzling trucks off the road. Then, like some sort of dark force from above, state legislatures swoop in to nullify local laws.
If you’re hoping to see cleaner streets and waters in your state, it’s not always as easy as passing laws. You also need to beat back the lobbyists out to protect business interests. Here are 10 states that love plastic industry money so much they banned attempts to control plastic bag use.
People go to Bisbee, Arizona to enjoy a picturesque mountain town and a bustling art scene. However, in recent years, visitors were as likely to see plastic bags blowing through the streets and sticking to cactuses.
The City Council decided to act on the problem, and banned plastic bags in all businesses. According to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts, the law worked like a charm, with the mayor saying plastic pollution was “all gone” after a short time.
Then the Republican-controlled legislature heard from The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, a lobbying group fearing bans across the state. A few years later, Arizona banned the concept of bag bans and threatened to cut funding for Bisbee if it didn’t follow its new law.
Next: This state’s Great Lakes won’t get any plastic bag bans on their side.
Washtenaw County, home to Ann Arbor and Watkins Lake, had a 10-cent charge on plastic bags about to take effect when the state legislature overruled it. To make sure no other Michigan county could reduce its use of plastics, lawmakers banned bag bans, fees, and all other restrictions on trash.
As a result, Michigan residents are now free to pollute local streets and waters to their hearts’ content. Rick Snyder, one of the least popular governors in America, had his lieutenant governor sign the bill into law in late 2016.
Next: Many consider New York a progressive state, but Governor Andrew Cuomo frequently ignores the memo.
3. New York
No U.S. city uses plastic bags like New York City. At the most recent count, the world’s most wasteful city was going through 10-12 billion plastic bags per year. You see them in the trees, in the ocean at Rockaway Beach, and clogging drains in Manhattan. After years of inaction and stumbles, the City Council finally passed a 5-cent fee to reduce bag waste in 2016.
Conservative Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) swept into action shortly thereafter, armed with the help of plastic lobbyists. With a conservatives state legislature and not-so-progressive Andrew Cuomo as governor in Albany, lawmakers managed to override the city’s law and torpedo the bag fee.
Amazingly, New York state isn’t even consistent from town to town. Beach communities on Long Island were allowed to keep their fees and bans, while Cuomo promised to come up with a statewide solution by 2018. After all the hubbub, he didn’t do anything.
Next: This state mixed a ban on plastic bag bans with a minimum wage cap.
It’s hard to keep track of the platforms of political parties. For the longest time, we understood the GOP to be the party of states’ rights and local rule. Conservative talk-radio hosts routinely call it “tyranny” when someone from Washington D.C. tries to force a state or city to swallow its policies.
Yet it keeps happening in states with Republican legislatures. Just look to Missouri. In 2015, after Columbia tried to ban plastic bags, state lawmakers moved to outlaw bag bans (and fees) entirely. Missouri added a bonus, however: Cities would also not be allowed to exceed a minimum wage set by the state, either.
So we know Missouri’s ruling party stands tall for low wages and as much plastic pollution as businesses can generate. Mix in the felony indictment of Governor Eric Greitens and you have to admire this group’s record of public service.
Next: Politics have gotten in the way of preserving the beauty of The Sunshine State.
Would you believe Florida — aka The Sunshine State — doesn’t rank in the top 10 states for solar energy? It’s a sad statement when you consider all the carbon-free energy going to waste.
Climate change is hitting Florida harder than any other state in America, yet leaders from Governor Rick Scott to Senator Marco Rubio think environmental policy is bad. In 2015, Scott even banned the use of phrases like “global warming” and “climate change” in state departments.
In this type of environment, it will be no surprise Florida banned all restrictions on plastic bags way back in 2008. When you’re leading anti-conservation movements in a state where the economy depends on tourism, you’re probably not good at your job.
Next: This Midwestern state prizes “business” over natural beauty.
It won’t come as a surprise to many that Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, signed a law banning plastic bag restrictions in 2016. Pence is known for his pro-business stance at all costs. (In the case of his Carrier deal, the cost came to $7 million and several hundred Indiana jobs.)
His ban on legislation that reduces plastic bag use should come cheaper. However, given the $12.5 million New York City spends annually just to dispose of its plastic bag waste (not including cleanup), we’re not entirely sure.
Next: The plastics lobby celebrated a big win in Minnesota in 2017.
Americans who are engaged in politics learn to follow the money. Once you start looking, you see how the companies that spend the most in Washington D.C. and state capitals get the best return.
In the case of the oil and plastics industries, a key lobbying group is called the “American Progressive Bag Alliance.” This group spent $6.14 million drumming up opposition to California’s plastic bag ban and eventually got the issue to a vote in 2016. (The lobbyists lost.)
However, they won in many other states, including Minnesota in 2017. When legislators succeeded in prohibiting plastic bag bans, the American Progressive Bag Alliance “applauded” the legislation, saying it would have put more money in corporations’ pockets.
The alliance didn’t comment on the cost of plastic bag pollution and cleanup — presumably because taxpayers foot that bill.
Next: Governor Scott Walker hold power “at the local level” in high regard, except in this case.
If you like freedom and local rule, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is your man. “When you send power back to the local level, the level closest to the people is generally best,” Slate quoted Walker saying in 2016.
Then Walker signed a law prohibiting plastic bag bans across the state. So any community that wants to take action to reduce pollution and waste disposal costs would have to back down to Walker’s directives from the capital.
This episode sheds light on Walker’s high disapproval rating (50%) as of February 2018.
Next: Idaho joined Missouri by banning both plastic bag restrictions and minimum wage increases.
It’s easy to look at the current state of American capitalism and say it’s gone too far. Yet state legislatures continue arguing they need to protect business interests. (Lobbyists remind them of this obligation before every election.)
In the case of Idaho, state lawmakers said businesses needed protection from plastic bag bans and minimum wage hikes in 2016. Then they banned both concepts. Now that every business got a 40% tax cut, we wonder it we can consider corporations less vulnerable to attacks.
Next: A familiar presence in Iowa ended the dream of plastic bag bans there, too.
We won’t try to top the Des Moines Register’s lede following the state ban on plastic bag bans passed.
Some of the poorest countries around the globe have accomplished an environmental milestone that Iowa communities are now forbidden from undertaking.
Lobbyists — including our old friend the American Plastic Bag Alliance — once again got to state lawmakers in Iowa. An activist from 100Grannies.org, which worked for five years on local plastic bans, said what people across America have been wondering for years.
“I can’t see any advantage to doing this except (to benefit) the plastics industry,” Ann Christenson told the Register. “It’s just incredible.”
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