Friday, May 08, 2009

Walking the Walk with Al Carr

By Marc Korman.

At a recent meeting of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Breakfast Club, four legislators summarized the recent legislative session. Speaking were Senator Brian Frosh, Delegate Susan Lee, and Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher. But the stand out was Delegate Al Carr. Carr takes shared credit for six pieces of legislation heading to the Governor’s desk, an impressive success rate even if passed legislation is not the only barometer of a legislator’s success. But perhaps Carr’s most interesting bill, and where he is really walking the walk, is a bill that did not even come to a vote, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Consumer Retail Choice Act of 2009.

Delegate Carr’s legislation would place a five cent fee on all plastic and paper bags at grocery and other retail stores. The store would retain one to two cents of the fee, depending on their particular program, and the rest would go towards the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. The purpose of the legislation is to improve the environment by decreasing the use of these bags, which often end up blowing into and polluting waterways like the Anacostia. It also has the side benefit of raising funds for the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund to help with clean-up.

Similar proposals in other jurisdictions, none of which have passed, were limited to charging a fee on plastic bags, thus encouraging the use of reusable or paper bags. Paper bags are easier to recycle and, unlike plastic bags, do not require any petroleum inputs. But the larger size and increased weight of paper bags can also increase their total lifecycle costs when you factor in shipping. That’s why broader use of reusable bags is the best approach.

Delegate Carr has distinguished his effort from many other proposals in two additional ways.

First, he has teamed up with a DC Councilmember so that the legislation is passed in both jurisdictions. The proposal in DC has overwhelming Council support, although the bill has not yet passed and there have been some complaints that is disproportionately harms the poor. Opposition has been organized by the American Chemical Council, a trade group which includes bag manufacturers. By teaming up across jurisdiction, Carr is building political momentum for a bill.

Second, Delegate Carr has been giving his supporters reusable bags to try and encourage people to start using reusable bags regardless of whether a tax is passed. I already had reusable bags that I kept in my house, but now I am keeping a Delegate Carr bag in my car for those random stops at the store on my drive home to pick up milk.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Consumer Retail Choice Act will be back again next legislative session. It is a common sense bill, but it has run into stiff resistance in communities as diverse as Annapolis, Virginia, and San Francisco. The Maryland General Assembly should push past the American Chemical Council’s lobbying and pass it.