Peninsula legislators consider ban on plastic bags

Lawmakers representing the North Olympic Peninsula have mixed feelings about a proposed state-wide ban on single-use plastic carryout bags.

State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, both said last week they support bans on plastic bags, although they questioned the proposed fee. State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, said he’d need to look at the legislation before expressing an opinion.

The three represent the 24th District, which includes the Olympic Peninsula.

The bill, which lawmakers announced on Nov. 28, would prohibit the use of single-use plastic carryout bags and require a charge of 10 cents on all paper carryout bags.

The bill will be introduced in the 2019 session that starts in January.

Currently, 19 cities in Washington state have plastic bag bans in place — including Port Angeles and Port Townsend.

Van De Wege said he has considered proposing legislation banning plastic bags.

“I think doing a grocery store plastic bag ban is low hanging fruit that we can do for the environment that has an impact that almost everybody can agree to,” Van De Wege said. “Lives aren’t too affected. There’s not a lot of sacrifices there.”

Both Van De Wege and Chapman said that among the reasons they support a plastic bag ban is that it adds value to the timber industry.

Van De Wege said that though paper bags are not manufactured on the North Olympic Peninsula, increasing the use of paper bags benefits the industry.

Where Van De Wege and Chapman differ is on the proposed 10-cent fee as a deal-breaker.

While they both said they are not in favor of a fee, Chapman said he could not vote for a fee.

“Let’s not charge people for using a renewable resources,” Chapman said. “It makes no sense to penalize people for doing the right thing for the environment.”

Chapman said he believes the fee is something that could change as the legislation evolves in the next session.

“We’ll see what the legislation looks like,” Chapman said. “I suspect I won’t be the only one who balks at the fee. I could see that being removed easily.”

Van De Wege said that though he isn’t in favor of a fee, a fee may be “inevitable to getting the bill to pass.”

Van De Wege said if there is a fee he would prefer for it to be lower.

If a fee is implemented, Van De Wege would want state law to preempt any county and city regulations that are currently in place so that there are uniform regulations across the state.

Tharinger, who wouldn’t say whether he generally supports a ban on plastic bags, said there is no question as to whether plastic bags have an impact on the environment. He said he was unsure whether legislation is the best way to address the issue.

“It’s pretty clear plastic bags have been a big factor in ocean pollution and marine mammal impacts,” Tharinger said. “How you deal with that remains to be seen.”

An attempt to pass a tax on plastic bags in the last legislative session failed.

Jesse Major is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladaily

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