Rural Republicans try to abort Minneapolis' plastic bag ban

Out-state Republicans tend to favor local control of decision-making -- except when it runs afoul of the business community's wishes

Out-state Republicans tend to favor local control of decision-making -- except when it runs afoul of the business community's wishes Randy Wich

In another move to punish the cities, the rural Republicans in the Minnesota legislature want to preempt plastic bag bans that have already been decided in Minneapolis and proposed in Duluth.

Plastic bags made from nonrenewable petroleum and generously dispensed in retail stores cannot be recycled in city curbside programs, so they’re often thrown away to be buried, burned, and littered in the street, advocates of bag bans say. The result: cancer-causing air pollutants and wildlife with stomachs full of plastic scrap.

So why do Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) – the two rural lawmakers championing the proposal – care if Minneapolis wants to phase out plastic bags starting this summer?

Ingebrigtsen said during a Senate environment committee hearing that although he does support local government control, he doesn’t support “hodge podge regulations around the state.”

In other words: The very definition of local government control.

Real opposition to cities’ bans comes from big grocery and retail companies, such as Holiday, Lunds and Byerlys, and the 300 members of the Minnesota Grocers Association, who all sent lobbyists to the hearing to argue in favor of plastic bags.

It would be too expensive to go from plastic to paper and too confusing to train cashiers to use customers’ own reusable grocery totes, they argue.

“Execution at checkout has many complicated layers, such as additional costs for implementation and execution, a slower checkout experience,” said Jamie Pfuhl of the Minnesota Grocers Association.

Steve Rush of Holiday was more succinct.

“We have to be able to offer customers bags to carry their merchandise. Plastic bags are the cheapest item available and are very popular with our customers.”

Opponents of the bill included the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which thinks bans are a great idea for reducing litter, as well as St. Paul recycler Eureka, and Linden Hills Power and Light, a conservation neighborhood group.

“The production of single-use plastic bags consumes 12 million barrels of oil per year,” said Keiko Veasey of Linden Hills Power and Light. “San Jose estimated that plastic bags caused over $1 million worth of damage per year to their recycling machinery prior to their plastic bag ban. Why would we take a common sense tool away from local governments to control their waste stream? There is a very narrow economic interest working hard here to protect the old way of doing business.”

A House committee voted in support of the bill last week.