ST. PAUL -- The plastic bag debate has moved to the State Capitol, as Republican lawmakers move to stop the City of Minneapolis from banning plastic bags in retail stores.
Than ban goes into effect June 1, and also features a 5-cent per bag surcharge for paper bags, in an effort to drive consumers toward reusable bags.
But Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen or Alexandria wants to trash that bag ban, with a bill that would prohibit local cities from limiting the types of bags retailers and consumers can use. It would also bar cities from enacting local fees aimed a curbing the use of disposable bags.
"A city by city approach with bans and fees is not the answer for Minnesotans quite frankly," Sen. Ingebrigtsen told his colleagues Tuesday during a committee hearing.
"There is a time and place where the state has to step up, instead of having all these hodgepodge regulations throughout the state of Minnesota."
Minneapolis leaders say such legislation thwarts the will of local government, and ignores the vetting done at the local level prior to enacting city regulations.
"We went through an extensive process, community meetings, listening to comments from both business and our constituents," Gene Ranieri, the City of Minneapolis director of governmental affairs, explained.
"We feel this is a decision best for our constituents, and also helps us because we are responsible for recycling in our city. We also are involved in composting, and we also do collect and control solid waste control."
Ranieri found a sympathetic ear in Sen. Erik Simonson, a Duluth Democrat, who defended the notion of local control. He noted it's not the first bill this session aimed at blocking rules adopted by Minneapolis.
"I'm not comfortable telling the City of Grand Rapids or the City of Minneapolis or the City of Luverne that, you know what, we don't trust you to make that decision."
But Republican Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids said the legislature should err on the side of individual freedom.
"For that individual that wants to use a plastic bag -- and they may want to re-use it at home -- I think we should support the ultimate local control, and that's the individual."
Grocers support bill
The grocery and convenience store industry support Ingebrigtsen's legislation, based on cost issues as well as worries about awkward and tense interactions between customers and cashiers.
They also assert the 5-cent fee on paper bags will create issues with lower income consumers using government food benefit EBT cards. Ingebrigtsen's bill also bar cities from assessing fees on disposable paper or plastic bags.
"It creates a competitive disadvantage between cities and between residents that live in one city and live in another," Brian Kopp of the Lund's and Byerly's grocery chain testified.
He said the company promotes reusable bags, and makes a 5-cent donation to Second Harvest food shelters for every reusable bag sold.
"For years we have voluntarily encouraged our shoppers to reduce, reuse and recycle," Jamie Pfuhl of the Minnesota Grocers Association told lawmakers.
"We offer plastic bag recycling right at the door. It’s a convenient on your way in or your way out drop spot."
But opponents assert the best way to tackle the plastic bag pollution problem is at the front end, by curbing their use.
"Over 100 billion plastic bags are produced each year, and then 95 percent of them are thrown in the garbage to be burned or buried, or littered within an average of 12 minutes of receiving them," Megan Kuhl-Stennis of the nonprofit Eureka Recycling testified.
Keiko Veasey of Linden Hills Power and Light, a Minneapolis community based nonprofit that works against climate change, said most of the bags are ending up in streams or other bodies of water and that shreds of bags are being ingested by wildlife.
"Banning plastic bags reduces a city’s overall carbon footprint and combats climate change in a very simple way," Veasey asserted.
"Why would we take away a common sense tool from local governments to control their waste stream, and the associated costs?"
The Senate Environment Committee voted to set the bill aside temporary, and possibly include it in a larger omnibus natural resources bill later in the legislative session.