- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The D.C. Council is scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday from environmentalists, economic development groups, senior citizens and clergy who say that a 5-cent fee on plastic bags will help to clean up the Anacostia River.

Opponents said that the fee, which they refer to as a tax, would disproportionately affect the poor and hurt businesses - especially restaurants - in a slow economy.

“Restaurants already have a sales tax rate of 10 percent,” said Paul D. Craney, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee. “Adding another tax isn’t something that will support business right now,” he said.

The bill would ban non-recyclable plastic carryout bags and “establish a fee on all other disposable carryout bags provided by grocery stores, drugstores, liquor stores, restaurants, and food vendors.”

Twelve of the 13 council members have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation, all but guaranteeing its passage. The lone holdout is Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, who thinks the bill will hurt the poor. A vote on the bill hasn’t been scheduled.

According to a report from the D.C. Department of the Environment, the bags contribute to 85 percent of the waste in the Anacostia River. The report stated a bag fee could lead to a 68 percent decrease in the trash.

Economic development groups, including Forest City Enterprises and the Cohen Cos. will also be testifying in favor of the bill. Charles Allen, spokesman for Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat who introduced the measure, said these groups want to build houses and restaurants by the river and if the river is filled with plastic bags and other trash, no one is going to want to live in the houses by the river or go to the restaurants.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who supports the bill for environmental reasons, said that the fee should be a disincentive for citizens to buy paper and plastic bags. He said that greenhouse gases are released in the decomposition of paper bags and that plastic bags are made of petroleum, which just he said just uses up more of our oil supply.

But George Franklin, director of the Covenant Food Pantry in Ward 8, said that the fee would severely hurt the operation of food pantries.

He said that since the pantry usually gets about 900 bags per month, which under the new fee would cost about $45 - money he would rather spend on spend buying vegetables and tomatoes.

Covenant Food Pantry, which is affiliated with Covenant Baptist Church, gets its plastic bags free from church members. Mr. Franklin said that if the fee is enacted, his members would be less likely to get the bags and less likely to pass them on to the church.

He said that the tax would hurt the poor and suggested that the 5-cent fee be put on tickets to events held at places like the Kennedy Center and other venues frequented by more-well-off people.

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