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Texas Supreme Court Rules Cities Cannot Ban Plastic Bags

velkr0 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Texas Supreme Court struck down the city of Laredo's plastic bag ban—a decision that will likely overturn similar bans in about a dozen other cities, including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas.


The court ruled Friday that only the state has the authority to regulate solid waste disposal in Texas. In the 19-page opinion, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote that the Texas Constitution prohibits city ordinances from conflicting with state law.

"Both sides of the debate ... assert public-policy arguments raising economic, environmental and uniformity concerns," Hecht said. "We must take statutes as they are written, and the one before us is written quite clearly. Its limitation on local control encompasses the ordinance."

The Laredo Merchants Association sued the city in March 2015 to overturn the ordinance, arguing that state law pre-empts the bag ban. The move was supported by 20 state senators and representatives, all Republicans, that filed an amicus brief in support of the merchants for an earlier appeal of the case.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also backed the merchants. A press release from his office states that the ruling "effectively invalidates unlawful bag bans across Texas."

"I hope that Laredo, Austin, and any other jurisdictions that have enacted illegal bag bans will take note and voluntarily bring their ordinances into compliance with state law," Paxton said in a statement. "Should they decline to do so, I expect the ruling will be used to invalidate any other illegal bag bans statewide."

In a statement after today's ruling, Laredo mayor Pete Saenz called the decision a "major blow to all Texans who want to see a cleaner, healthier and more beautiful state."

He said that banning plastic bags helped protect the environment, reduced clean-up costs and "beautified" the city. He also said that Laredoans quickly adapted to bringing their own bags to stores.

"Single use plastic bags have contributed to flooding, mosquitoes, costly clean up for local governments, and disruption of sensitive ecosystems and wildlife," Saenz said. "Laredo's ordinance helped reduce clean up and repair costs to our storm water, sewage and water utilities systems. It also beautified our city and helped wildlife with it."

He encouraged residents and all Texans to continue bringing reusable bags, straws, cups and containers to stores.

Environmental groups were disappointed by the court's decision.

"Plastic pollution is harming wildlife, marring the beauty of our cities, and threatening our health, safety and economy," said Environment Texas executive director Luke Metzger in a statement. "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years. We call on major retailers, like HEB and Walmart, to continue observing the ban in these cities and ask the Legislature to remove the preemption statute."

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