Plastic bag ban a non-issue

July 17, 2010 05:00 am

The legislative duo that tried to ban plastic checkout bags during the February special session are back at it. Sens. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, and Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, intend to trot out a new bill during next year’s regular session, according to The Oregonian. Not only would it ban plastic bags beginning in 2012, but it also would require retailers to charge a nickel for each paper bag.

Why, particularly now, must Oregonians be rescued from, or charged extra for, disposable grocery bags?  “The theory,” Hass told The Oregonian, “is this should be a statewide solution as opposed to a crazy quilt of Portland, Corvallis and Tigard doing different things.” 

Shoppers in Brookings and Gold Beach must endure a bag ban, in other words, because a handful of cities elsewhere might think it’s a good idea. Should the same principle apply if a couple of cities decide to ban large retail stores or chain restaurants?

Here’s another statewide solution that would work even better: Leave things as they are and focus on real problems. Like, you know, the staggering gap between Oregon’s revenues and the cost of its services. In the meantime, people who dislike disposable bags will be free to carry their groceries home in reusable bags.

Hass and Atkinson aren’t about to do anything that sensible, though. They’re determined to create an environmental legacy, and, of course, please anti-bag constituencies. They’re far less interested in pleasing the majority of Oregonians.

But Atkinson and Hass aren’t about to take “no” for an answer, even if next year’s attempt fares as badly as this year’s. Atkinson told The Oregonian that “most good pieces of environmental legislation take a session or two.” And bad pieces of environmental legislation could take even longer.

Unfortunately, Oregon’s lawmakers have a weakness for bad environmental laws. They’ve forced ethanol into our gasoline, created a “renewable portfolio standard” that will boost the cost of electricity, and, of course, created and expanded an environmental tax credit, the BETC, that has cost public schools millions upon millions of dollars. In their heedless pursuit of environmental snake oil, Oregon’s legislators have been nothing if not consistent.

But you never know. Given mounting evidence that government at all levels has a hard time solving genuine problems (think Oregon’s budget shortfall), Oregonians are probably in no mood to let the Legislature “solve” a complete nonproblem like this one — especially since the “solution” will either cost them money or create a hassle. That healthy skepticism might even outlast Atkinson, Hass and their ideological successors.

— Wescom News Service (Bend Bulletin)