For the second time in as many years, members of the Virginia House of Delegates decided against pursuing a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic and paper bags, shooting down a bill from Alexandria Delegate Adam Ebbin (D-49) Tuesday morning in a subcommittee hearing.
Despite “substantial attention” and even a potential amendment offered during the hearing, Virginians will not join the movement at least not this year to reduce usage of plastic bags, which are recognized as one of the top three sources of pollution in Virginia waterways, according to Ebbin.
“There was a really good discussion,” Ebbin said. “The committee members showed a lot of interest;there were three conservative Republicans and they all acknowledged the problem but didn’t seem to be ready to enact a fee to deal with the problem.”
The measure, introduced by Ebbin at the start of the legislative session last month, would have placed a 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags from grocery, convenience and drug stores resembling a law that went into effect in the District on January 1.
During its review of the Virginia Waterways Clean Up and Consumer Choice Act, the Republican-dominated House Subcommittee for Finance handling the resolution played with the idea of striking paper bags from the bill a positive sign for growing interest in the issue, Ebbin said but ultimately set aside the proposal.
“People are recognizing there’s a problem, even conservative delegates are recognizing there’s a problem to be dealt with and are wanting to learn more about the issue,” Ebbin said.
It is estimated that the law would raise $47.9 million for the Virginia Water Quality Improvement fund in its first year, according to numbers released from Ebbin’s office.
“The biggest loser today is the Chesapeake Bay,” said J.R. Tolbert, senior advocate for Environment Virginia.
“This bill would have helped fund efforts to curtail point source pollution entering the bay and by rejecting the measure the House of Delegates has served up yet another threat to one of Virginia’s greatest resources,” he said.
Information Ebbin provided in support of the bill stated that less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled and, worldwide, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year. In Ireland, a 22-cent tax imposed on plastic bags eight years ago resulted in a 95 percent decrease in bag consumption in that country.
In the next budget cycle, the Water Quality Improvement Fund is projected to see a funding shortfall of about $37 million, according to Environment Virginia.
“Delegate Ebbin’s bill would have been a significant step in reducing the waste that enters Virginia’s rivers, lakes and streams,” Tolbert said. “Virginia needs to address issues of waste and pollution entering our waterways and today’s vote is a setback in that effort.”
With the proposal passed-by for the current legislative season, eliminating any further movement of the bill, Ebbin said he plans to reintroduce the resolution next year, a move that should benefit from the traction gained this year.