Philadelphia-area legislators argue that a bill prohibiting imposing a ban, fee, tax or surcharge on single-use plastic bags would interfere with local efforts to curb the negative environmental impact of the bags. — AP Photo

The State Senate plans to consider a measure passed by the House that would prohibit Pennsylvania cities, counties, townships and boroughs from imposing a ban, fee, tax or surcharge on single-use plastic bags at retail stores.

The measure, passed in April by the House, has been decried by several local lawmakers who point out that Philadelphia is a city overburdened with the negative environmental affects of disposed plastic bags, and insists the city should be able to in some way prohibit that damage.

“If Philadelphia wants to combat liter, if Philadelphia wants to be environmentally friendly by banning or putting a tax on plastic bags, I’d be in favor of letting Philadelphia do that,” said State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia.

“I don’t think the state should be in the business of being an impediment to progress,” said Harris, who serves on the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.

Philadelphia residents use more than 500 million plastic bags per year, and with a nickel fee on plastic bags, there would be more than enough money to pay for street-sweeping — at $3 million a year — along with additional litter initiatives, said State Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia.

“This issue is another example of how some of my colleagues in Harrisburg keep trying to take more local control away from Philadelphia and other communities. I say, if you won’t help us protect ourselves, at least stay out of our way,” she said.

Further, an often-overlooked angle on the plastic bag issue is environmental justice, Bullock said.

“Opponents often point out the cost of a plastic ban fee on low-income communities, but those communities already pay the costs — the cost of litter on our streets from discarded bags, and the cost of pollution,” she said.

The Philadelphia Streets Department has noted that many residents assume that plastic bags are recyclable in the city’s curbside recycling program; but they are not.

Plastic bags tear and wrap around the moving parts in recycling processing machines and systems, leading to increased maintenance costs, equipment damage and even worker safety issues, Streets Department officials note on the department’s website.

A number of retailers who operate in Philadelphia already charge for plastic shopping bags. Philadelphia officials are considering legislation to impose a fee on single-use plastic bags, and State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Montgomery County, said the proposed law would prevent the city from doing so.

“Concerned citizens should urge their state senator to oppose this bill and ask Gov. Tom Wolf to veto it should it reach his desk,” Vitali said.

“By prohibiting cities like Philadelphia from enacting a ban or surcharge or a fee, you’re taking away a good tool of local control,” he said.

The controversial bill that’s now being considered by the Senate was introduced in the house by Bucks County Republican Rep. Frank Farry, who said it wouldn’t prevent retailers from charging for plastic bags.

As many as 11 states have already adopted similar legislation, and Farry said there are 14 manufacturing facilities located in Pennsylvania and 1,500 residents whose jobs depend on the plastic bag recycling and manufacturing industry.

“This proposal would allow sustainable recycling and reuse practices while also supporting good, family-sustaining jobs,” Farry said.

Most Pennsylvania municipal associations oppose the measure, including the Pennsylvania Municipal League, The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

In a recent letter to state lawmakers, Philadelphia City Council also urged opposition to the bill. Bullock and Harris, who once served as executive director of Philadelphia’s Youth Commission, both said they hope the Senate votes the measure down or Wolf vetoes it.

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