The Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance – A Newburyport Progressive Political Overreach

OverReachForgive me, but here I go again.

What I see in the Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance, as it is now written and as it has been presented (see 2 earlier posts here and here), is “progressives” overreaching and making the same mistake they made in the 2008-2009 council.

People may not remember that the City Council passed the Wind Turbine through fast, very fast, and it passed with an 11-0 vote.  After the Wind Turbine went up, and there was such an incredible backlash, and people saw the effects that it had on real peoples’ lives, I can’t tell you how many councilors said to me, “What did we do?” and wished there hadn’t been such a rush to judgement. And I’m pretty sure, at that point, the vote would have been pretty close to 11-0 against.

I had hoped that this was one of the most level headed city councils ever. It got off to a good start by being careful, thoughtful and inclusive in its approach to protecting downtown (our brand), and our historic buildings (a whole other post).  (The Planning Board has not made its final recommendation yet, and the City Council has not yet voted–the process is still ongoing.) That governing template and process resulted in a bucketload of good will and trust in our city council.

This overreach, in my mind, is a legislative setback and now an “old school” approach.  And I could imagine exactly how it happened. The Citizens for Sustainable Bagging have been working towards the goal of banning “single use, thin filmed” plastic bags (the ones at Shaws and Market Basket) for 2 years, and they have supporters on the council, which is perfectly natural.  And what most probably happened, was the thought, “We have a progressive city council, finally, and we can now get our agenda (in this case it happens to be an ultra-progressive one) passed.”

Please don’t go there, don’t go that route.  If this passes, as is, without a more moderate approach, what will happen is “conservative” candidates will run in the next City Council election, on a moderate restoration of plastic bags, and you have no idea–they will get so many votes. And if the ordinance, as written, is not made more moderate, that bucketload of trust that this Newburyport City Council has right at the get-go, will be eroded so, so, so very quickly.

ConCom-PBags
Letter from ConCom, press image to enlarge.

Editor’s Note:  I have in front of me a letter to the City Council, on city stationary, from the Conservation Commission, that “does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time,” but supports “a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”  (To read the entire letter, please press the image to the left to enlarge.) Seems fair to me.

Second Editor’s Note: The ConCom minutes of August 6, 2013 which are referenced in the letter above can be read here.

“Discussion of Proposed Plastic Bag Ordinance

Sheila Taintor of the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging discussed the ordinance to ban plastic bags that the group intends to put before the City Council. She asked the Commission members to support the draft ordinance. Members commented that they wish to have more details about the way in which the ban would work and how the ban has been implemented in other communities.

They said that while the plastic bags greatly impact the environment they might favor voluntary compliance or an incentive program over a ban. Paul Healy moved that a letter be sent to the City Council stating that while the Commission does not endorse the ban, it would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment. Steve Moore seconded the motion. The motion was approved with Dan Warchol voted in opposition. Julia Godtfredsen will draft a letter for approval at the next meeting.” From ConCom minutes August 6, 2013 which can be read here.

Third Editor’s Note:  This is the complete last paragraph in the letter above to the Newburyport City Council from the Conservation Commission:

“While the Conservation Commission does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time (due to lack of information on how it has been successfully conducted in other similar municipalities), we would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”