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Differences Remain On Bag Tax Rollback

by Aaron Kraut — June 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm 155 6 Comments


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A bill that would exempt non-food stores from Montgomery County’s bag tax still faces opposition from County Executive Isiah Leggett and environmentalists, some who at a Tuesday public hearing argued it would invite confusion and hurt stream clean-up efforts.

“Changes will negatively impact the success of this bag law,” said Laura Chamberlain, a program manager with a group that does Potomac watershed clean-ups.

Chamberlain said clean-up volunteers over the last 18 months at Montgomery sites have reported a 50 percent decrease in plastic bags near or in streams. She didn’t agree with Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) who earlier in the hearing said he doesn’t think there is evidence that the county’s streams are threatened by bags from non-food retailers and department stores. The bill would also exempt plastic carry-out food bags from the tax.

“I have been out there. I have seen bags from those kinds of stores,” Chamberlain said. “I have been into those stores and I’ve seen them selling reuseable bags.”

Berliner, a co-sponsor of the bill, said while he still supports the goal of the original bag tax, enacted on Jan. 1, 2012, he thinks requiring people to carry reuseable bags into a hardware store or a Nordstroms to avoid the five-cent fee only breeds resentment.

“One small retailer in downtown Bethesda said, ‘We have a number of customers who get angry with us because of a law Montgomery County has imposed on us,’” testified Ginanne Italiano, President of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. “‘They leave very frustrated, not because of the five cents, but because of a law that makes us charge five cents for a paper bag when it’s the plastic bags that are causing the pollution.’”

Bob Hoyt, director of Montgomery’s Department of Environmental Protection, has defended the existing law before and delivered Leggett’s official opposition on Tuesday. His testimony is above.

Berliner said he’d like Montgomery’s bag tax to be more reflective of other jurisdictions with similar measures. He cited a Boulder, Colo., bag tax that only covers food stores.

“Boulder’s law has not yet gone into affect, has been a labeled a first step, charges 10 cents a bag and covers a smaller area,” Hoyt said.

Kate Judson, from D.C.’s District Department of the Environment, encouraged councilmembers to keep the current law because it’s simple and easy to understand for both residents and businesses.

Montgomery environmental officials went to D.C. when creating the county’s bag tax. D.C. officials told them to make the tax apply to all stores to avoid the confusion they encountered at CVS stores and similar places after the tax was enacted on Jan. 1, 2010 in the District.

“Surveys show plastic bag use is down and it has become accepted,” Judson said. “[The] current law is simple and easy to understand from a resident’s perspective. Changing it could result in inconsistent compliance and an uneven playing field.”

Video via Montgomery County Council

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  • Herman Jones

    If this passes, there may be a SLIGHT bit of common sense left on the council. I am so sick of getting to the end of the check-out line at the pet store,
    electronic store, office supply store… and having the clerk sorta of
    give me the look, like there you go – leaving my twelve items sitting
    out there at the end of the counter for all to see.

    What about a bag? I ask. Oh, sure, Uhhh that’ll be 5 cents unless you need two.

    Or how about the self-checkout lines at Giant. NO BAGS because people may
    “steal” them and dare to put their groceries in them without entering
    the total amount “purchased” at the end of the transaction. I have seen
    fights, screaming and people just leave baskets full of food and walk
    out.

    “Surveys show plastic bag use is down and it has become accepted,”
    Judson said. “[The] current law is simple and easy to understand from a
    resident’s perspective.”

    Survey’s can be manipulated to show whatever results you want. Ike Leggett said in an interview on WTOP this was tax was intended to change behavior first and foremost. His plan hasn’t worked. It has changed no one who didn’t want change in the first place, based on the amount of revenue collected by the county for this alleged environmental clean-up effort.

    If the county is bringing in record revenue from this tax, that would mean bags are being purchased. They must be going somewhere. If not the rivers and streams as quoted in this article, then where? This is a first-rate money grab and some on the council do not want this changed out of fear of cutting of this new, innovative revenue source.

    Good for you Mr. Berliner, Ms. Floreen and Mr. Rice!

    End this nonsense Montgomery county!

    • MechanicalTurk

      I would not have minded the tax if the tax revenue went directly to programs that help clean up rivers and wildlife. But it doesn’t. Like you said this is just a cash grab.

      • Lori

        What the current law does is help make behavior change happen. The purpose is to reduce littered bags at the source and it does work. Dedicated volunteers that work to clean up trash in Montgomery County streams are seeing fewer bags (we need a bottle bill!). Straight from the accounting books of grocery store owners: customers have reduced there use of disposable bags by 70%. SEVENTY PERCENT! Also, legislative action on disposable bags has been taken up in 36 of the states in the U.S. – we’re not the only ones seeing the problem.

        Oh and the revenue, it goes to the Water Quality Projection Charge Fund which was set up in 2002 to help fund restoration projects such as:

        Storm drain cleanup and maintenance
        Rain barrel, cistern, rain garden, and green roof installation

        Stormwater management facility upgrades, maintenance, and cleanup

        Stream and pond restoration
        “Green” streets redevelopment
        Litter control program implementation

        More info: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/bag/

        The bill, CB 8-11: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/bill/2011/20110503_8-11A.pdf

        Soap box warning: If we change the law because some feel inconvenienced to take their bags to the department store or mall, we’ve totally missed the point of implementing the law in the first place: behavior change. It can be difficult at first and the few that don’t like it will seem to be making the most noise, but it needs to happen. We need more life-style changes, not just with bags but with single-use beverage bottles, polystyrene, water use, fossil fuels, etc. We, the human race, need to let go of the convenience factor and actually think about the impact we are having on the environment which in turn impacts our health and the health of future generations.

        I leave you with this: http://www.plasticoceans.net/

        • nope

          I totally am with you on reducing pollution, but don’t think for even 10 seconds that this is going to that wildlife fund. It’s just another revenue source for the county.The fact is only $28,000 went there out of the $500,000+ that was taxed from our citizens in the first 3 months. Most goes to “management” of the tax, which makes NO sense to me or anybody else.

  • Patrick

    Democrats know only one thing – TAX.
    Vote them out of office.

  • Joe

    Take your reusable bags! It’s easy! I’m sick of seeing these plastic and paper bags in our streams, neighborhoods, and killing wildlife.

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