Another push for a plastic bag tax in Virginia dies

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Environmental advocates tried again to staunch the flow of plastic bags into Virginia’s waterways Wednesday, but to no avail.

Sens. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City, and Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, proposed allowing localities to add a 5-cent tax to plastic bags. Petersen’s bill would have limited the range of the bill to localities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and Ebbin’s would have applied statewide.

Both bills died in the Senate Finance Committee on a party-line vote, but some Republican senators suggested that, while they aren’t in favor of a tax, their plastic bag politics may be changing.

“I don’t support a tax, but I’m getting really close to the point where I’d support a ban on plastic bags because they’ve gotten really onerous,” said Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, after sharing a story of picking up five truckloads of plastic bags over the summer.

Another similar bill sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, on the House side died in the Committee on Finance earlier this week, also on a party-line vote.

In that committee, too, Del. Robert Bloxom, R-Accomack, noted that he doesn’t “disagree with the underlying premise of the bill,” and Del. R. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, said that, while he doesn’t support the tax, he does think action should be taken to address plastic litter on the landscape.

Petersen described his proposed bill as user friendly, explaining that other states haven’t run into issues with their taxes. He recalled visiting Colorado, which has a plastic bag tax, and making a purchase without any problems.

“There was no infringement on my freedom as an American,” he said. “The citizens of Colorado decided to pass this, or their legislature did, and I didn’t see anyone in revolt.”

Ebbin added that plastic bags are the second-most commonly found litter pollution source in the state.

Several environmental groups expressed their support for the tax, citing statistics about the damage that plastic bags cause, like the fact that, by 2050, plastic will outnumber fish by mass in the world’s oceans.

“This is a locality option,” said Steven Carter-Lovejoy with the Virginia Sierra Club. “It gives us a chance to experiment across the state and make sure it works well.”

Opponents, including the Virginia Retail Federation, the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, and the American Progressive Bag Alliance, claimed the tax would be a burden on retailers.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, noted that food stamps wouldn’t cover the tax.

“We’re gonna take those with the least amount of money and charge them some more,” he said.