- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers have rejected a bill seeking to ban plastic shopping bags after a contentious debate over whether the state was going too far in trying to regulate personal choice.

The Democratic bill, which failed late Tuesday, would have been the first statewide ban, although a few California cities already prohibit their use.

The measure offered California an opportunity to emerge at the forefront of a global trend, said Sen. Gil Cedillo, who carried the measure on the Senate floor.

“If we don’t solve this problem today, if we don’t create a statewide standard, if we don’t provide the leadership that is being called for, others will,” the Los Angeles Democrat said during Tuesday evening’s debate.

Discouraging plastic bag use through fees or bans first gained traction outside of the U.S. in nations such as South Africa, Ireland, China and Bangladesh. In January, Washington, D.C., implemented a 5-cent surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags.

A handful of California cities already ban single-use plastic bags, after San Francisco became the first to do so in 2007.

Palo Alto, Malibu and Fairfax in Marin County have since followed, while a ban approved in Manhattan Beach is tied up in litigation, said Matthew King, a spokesman for Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica-based nonprofit that sponsored the bill.

Supporters of the bill said the 19 billion plastic bags state residents use every year harm the environment and cost the state $25 million annually to collect and transport to landfills. It had been the subject of a furious lobbying campaign by the plastic bag manufacturing industry, which called it a job killer.

The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica, said lawmakers had failed Californians by defeating the measure. But she said the movement to ban plastic bags would continue despite the setback.

“It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when consumers bring their own bags and become good stewards of the environment,” Ms. Brownley said in a statement early Wednesday morning.

The bill, AB1998, called for the ban to take effect in supermarkets and large retail stores in 2012. It would have applied to smaller stores in 2013.

Republicans and some Democrats opposed it, saying it would add an extra burden on consumers and businesses at a time when many already are struggling financially.

“If we pass this piece of legislation, we will be sending a message to the people of California that we care more about banning plastic bags than helping them put food on their table,” said Sen. Mimi Walters, a Republican from Lake Forest.

The bill’s main opponent, the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, spent millions in lobbying fees, radio ads and even a prime-time television ad attacking the measure. The organization represents plastic bag manufacturers such as Dow Chemical Co. and ExxonMobil Corp.

Last year, it helped defeat an effort by Seattle to impose a 20-cent fee on the use of plastic or paper grocery bags.

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