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All Opinions Are Local
Posted at 04:09 PM ET, 03/21/2011

A lame case against the bag tax


Rarely have I see a piece of public argumentation with such a large “Kick Me” sign on it as Council member Nancy Floreen’s (D-At Large) Local Opinions commentary in Sunday’s Post opposing a proposed five-cent tax on plastic and paper bags in Montgomery County. Some of Floreen’s arguments (e.g., people will pack bags too full and the resulting spillage will pollute the environment) are too ludicrous to merit a response. I’ll focus on rebutting the specious and disingenuous arguments instead.

1.Floreen says that the bag tax wouldn’t resolve the county’s budget crisis and that it is merely a drop in the bucket. Of course. The bag tax is not meant to raise significant revenue but to change behavior and help the environment. But since the councilwoman mentions the budget, I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t mind seeing the additional million or so the tax is expected to generate to help keep things running.

2.She cites the Alice Ferguson Foundation as saying that the effect of D.C.’s bag tax (in place since January 2010) hasn’t been measure yet. But somehow, she neglects to consider qualitative reports of improvements in area waterways or to mention the foundation’s findings that 75 percent of city residents are using fewer bags than a year ago and that city officials report a drop in bag use from 270 million in 2009 to 55 million in 2010. It strains credulity to argue that a drop that dramatic has not resulted in less litter.

3.Furthermore, bag taxes are not just about saving the local waterways. Reducing bag consumption is about the trash my wife and I fish out of our hedge every week. It’s about the bags that collect along streets and in parks. It’s about the ship that recently had trouble anchoring off the coast of Brazil because of plastic bags covering on the ocean floor. It’s about the marine mammals that are strangling in the stuff or starving to death because it has clogged their digestive systems. Finally, bag taxes reduce our reliance on imported oil and production of greenhouse gasses. Are these things of no concern to the good councilwoman?

4.Floreen argues that people “who exercise good judgment” already reuse plastic bags to (for example) clean up after their pets. On my dog walk today, I did in indeed reuse a plastic bag: The one that The Post arrives in each morning. Just in case the supply of Post bags turns out to be insufficient, I can get 120 biodegradable poop bags on Amazon.com for $7.64, or about 6.4 cents each (or, I suppose, drive to the grocery store and buy the nonbiodegradable variety for five cents each).

5.She goes on to say that the County Council can’t afford to be distracted from its one and only mission: dealing with the budget crisis. Why then does the council agenda for this coming Tuesday show her “distracting” the council for about 10 minutes to issue a proclamation recognizing a member of the WMATA board? Why would she allow the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (which she chairs) to spend time discussing historic preservation of the “Kensington Cabin”? Though I have questioned the intelligence of some council decisions over the years, I refuse to believe that our elected officials lack the gray matter to deal with more than one issue per year. Apparently -- according to council agendas – Floreen agrees.

Floreen’s only point that merits even a second look is the one about a bag tax’s impact on the poor. But a review of events in the big city next door shows that large retailers and city programs were able to alleviate the impact through bag giveaway programs.

In her commentary, Nancy Floreen claims she would be the “first to sign on” if she believed that a bag tax would make an environmental difference. In fact, she is more responsible for environmentally destructive impervious surfaces, sprawl and traffic than just about anyone in the county, save perhaps Doug Duncan and Steve Silverman. She comes late aboard popular environmental measures like the Purple Line and only after having helped to bankrupt the state transportation budget on the environmentally catastrophic Intercounty Connector.

I’m not the least surprised that Floreen opposes common-sense environmentalism — that fits her record. What amazes me is that someone as accomplished as she could make such a poor case in arguing her point.

Keith Berner blogs at Left-Hand View. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Keith Berner  |  04:09 PM ET, 03/21/2011

 
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