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49 Million Americans Benefit From Plastic Bag Bans or Fees

With the signing of a plastic bag ban in California yesterday, the number of Americans who will be affected by anti-bag legislation by 2015 climbed to 49 million. California is the first state to ban the bag. Nationwide more than 150 cities and counties are implementing bans or fees in attempts to reduce the estimated 100 billion plastic bags used in the U.S. each year.

Americans use on average nearly one plastic bag each day, taking something made from fossil fuels formed over millions of years and generally using it for mere minutes before throwing it away. The energy required to make 12 plastic bags could drive a car a mile. While plastic bags are recyclable, the vast majority never make it that far. Instead they end up in landfills or blow out of trash bins or garbage trucks—clogging storm drains, getting snagged in trees or littering streams, lakes and beaches. In nature, plastic breaks into smaller pieces, but it never fully disappears. Plastic refuse poses dangers to wildlife and to humans as chemicals leaching from discarded plastic enter water supplies and travel up the food chain.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags. By 2014, when a ban in Los Angeles went into effect, nearly a third of Californians were covered under municipal or county plastic bag bans. Other sizable U.S. cities banning the bag include Chicago, Austin, Seattle and Portland, Oregon. County bans in Hawaii cover almost the entire state.

Washington, D.C., is among a smaller group of U.S. cities taking an alternate route in an effort to limit single-use bags: a 5¢ fee per bag has been applied at the checkout counter since 2010. Dallas is following suit with a fee going into effect in January 2015.

In less than 30 years, plastic grocery bags have moved quickly from novelty to entitlement. But the throwaway-and-forget mentality that allowed these bags to proliferate has proved a liability, wasting resources and marring landscapes. As the list of places working to scrap the bag expands, both in the U.S. and around the world, this could be the beginning of the end for the single-use plastic bag.

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Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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