Kensington legislator to seek 5-cent fee on plastic bags in Maryland
Part of fee would go to a nonprofit environmental organization
This story was corrected at 12 p.m., Jan. 6, 2011. An explanation follows the story.
Maryland could be joining Washington, D.C., in charging a fee for plastic shopping bags if tweaks to previous legislation are enough to ward off key opposition.
Riding the coattails of a similar law in the District, state Del. Al C. Carr (D-District 18) plans to reintroduce a revised version of a bill that would add a 5-cent fee to each new plastic or paper bag used by retail shoppers.
The bill titled the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Consumer Retail Choice Act received an unfavorable report in the House Environmental Matters committee in 2010, and a similar bill also was unsuccessful in 2009.
Virginia Del. Joseph D. Morrissey has introduced legislation that would impose 20-cent tax on plastic bags. Last year, Morrissey proposed a bill banning plastic bags, but the bill was defeated.
Carr of Kensington hopes adding a provision exempting farmers markets and roadside vendors from the fee will halt the Maryland Farm Bureau's opposition to the legislation.
"The bulk of our opposition was it was going to have an impact on our farmers that operate roadside stands," Valerie Connelly, director of government relations with Maryland Farm Bureau, said about the 2010 bill.
Connelly said she could not speculate on the Bureau's stance on a new draft of the bill until it is introduced.
In the 2010 version of the bill, stores would be able to retain 1 to 2 cents per bag based and at least 3 cents would be transmitted to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund, operated by the state. The Maryland Department of the Environment wrote in opposition to the bag bill last year citing a financial burden and lack of resources.
Carr now is considering having monies from the fee not retained by retailers instead go to a nonprofit environmental organization. He has not identified a nonprofit.
A state agency would need to administer the program and also would provide reusable bags to low income families under the proposed law, Carr said.
Outgoing Del. Paul Stull (R-Dist. 4A) has twice opposed the bill he feels would be an unnecessary fee on the consumer during tough economic times.
"I just didn't see the point in having to add that to everybody's grocery bill at this time," Stull said.
Stull also thinks the bill will place an undue burden on retailers and on the state agencies that must enforce the law.
Carr disagrees, saying businesses will benefit from reduced overhead costs when consumers adapt to the law and fewer bags will need to be ordered.
"It's not designed to raise money. It's designed to change behavior," Carr said.
A similar bag law in the District went into effect Jan. 1, 2010, and has been met with a favorable response in its first year, said Charles Allen, chief of staff for D.C. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who sponsored the legislation. Wells has testified in Annapolis in support of Carr's bill.
The law charges 5 cents on single-use carry-out bags, 1 cent of which is kept by the business, and 4 cents are transferred into an Anacostia River cleanup fund operated by the District Department of the Environment, Allen said.
City officials in Washington, D.C., have said the bag tax in the District brought in $2 million in its first year, instead of the projected $3.5 million.
After the first few weeks the law was in place, District residents changed their behavior and started bringing reusable bags, Allen said.
"It's much more to get into your head then in your wallet," Allen said.
A nonprofit group that sponsors cleanups of the Anacostia River has reported a 60 percent decrease in the number of plastic bags removed in 2010 as opposed to the previous year, Allen said.
Some businesses also have reported to Wells' office a 50 percent to 80 percent decrease in the number of single-use bags given to shoppers, Allen said.
After the success of the District's bag bill, attitudes about reducing plastic bag use are changing in the region, Carr said.
Stull thinks many individuals are using reusable bags or recycling plastic bags on their own, and the law would be creating rules and regulations for something that should be personal decision.
"I think it's out of proportion, I really do." Stull said. "I don't think it is as big of a problem as some people are led to believe."
The consumer's choice to use reusable bags or pay a fee toward environmental initiatives is one of the reasons the nonprofit organization Environment Maryland chose to support the bill last year, said policy associate Megan Cronin.
"I don't think having a monetary fee is necessarily a bad thing," she said. "It does give people a choice."
Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated the name of Environment Maryland. The story was also updated to reflect that Del. Paul Stull (R-Dist. 4A) is nearing the end of his term after not winning re-election.