SACRAMENTO -- A broad coalition of California environmental, labor and business groups, joined by more than 100 local government officials, today announced the "California vs. Big Plastic" campaign to protect California’s historic plastic bag ban from an effort by out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers to force a November 2016 referendum on the measure.
"The plastic bag industry threw the kitchen sink at preventing this ban, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into intense lobbying efforts and attack ads," said Mark Murray of California vs. Big Plastic. "Yet the Legislature approved it and the Governor signed it because Californians support it. That should be the end of the story."
"Unfortunately our state’s electoral system is being hijacked by a corporate special interest: the dying plastic bag industry, companies that apparently can't read the writing on the wall about their product. For them, this isn’t about policy. This is about profits at a great cost to California's wildlife and environment."
To date, Big Plastic -- under the ill-suited name American Progressive Bag Alliance - has put nearly $2 million into an effort to gather signatures to overturn California’s law. More than $1 million of that is from a single, South Carolina-based company. Another $400,000 is from a company based in China. Their signature gatherers, many of whom also are from out of state, are being paid $1.50 per signature, according to ads posted on Craigslist.
The companies have until December 30, 2014 to turn in 504,760 signatures to put the measure on the November 2016 ballot. If successful, the law will be suspended until the election, enabling local jurisdictions to continue enacting their own bans.
They face an unwinnable campaign, says Murray. He notes that Californians solidly support the state’s new law that will ban single-use plastic carryout bags from checkout stands. A statewide poll released last week by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California found Californians back the law by a 2-1 margin.
"The poll showed that Californians strongly support the law and will not likely be moved by a $30 million misinformation campaign these out-of-state companies will need to launch," said Murray. "We are not going to let them get out of the gate unchallenged, so we're planning an aggressive campaign to show Californians just who is behind this and what their motives really are."
The coalition kicked off its effort by announcing the support of more than 100 local government officials from communities across California that already have enacted bans, along with several others that say they will introduce bans if the companies are successful in securing the required signatures.
The coalition announced it will launch its website, www.CAvsBigPlastic.com, on Thursday, and has launched a Facebook site, and Twitter account (@CAvsBigPlastic).
Already, 129 communities in California have enacted plastic bag bans.
"The bottom line is that we’ve seen great results across our state already," said Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty. "In San Jose, the city's ordinance has reduced the average number of single-use bags used per customer, decreasing from 3 bags to 0.3 bags per visit following the implementation of the ordinance. We will not let out-of-state corporations stop this momentum and we're prepared to unleash many more local ordinances if they are successful."
The campaign also has support from local grocers.
Melissa Porter, Vice President Marketing, Grocery Outlet, Inc., which is based in Emeryville, said that grocers oppose the referendum because they support consistent regulations across the state. "As families and as citizens, our independent operators support measures that benefit the environment and promote operational consistency. It is important we have a plastic bag solution that is fair to all business," she said.
State legislators also promised to work to uphold the new law.
"As we have done so many times before, by passing the bag ban, California is leading the nation in combating pollution," said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland." The billions of non-biodegradable plastic bags will be a thing of the past, like aerosol cans and DDT."
"Here we go again: Californians adopt a law to protect the environment, and some out-of-state special interests try to use big money and the ballot box to persuade us we're wrong," said Kathryn Phillips, Director for Sierra Club California. "We'll reject their efforts to persuade us that polluting is good, and their ballot measure will lose. It would make more sense for the out-of-state special interests to stay home and give their cash to some worthy charity."
"After working to enact a bag ban law for over 6 years in the state of California, Surfrider Foundation will stand strong with our coalition partners to defend this victory against any attempt to undermine it by the bag industry," said Angela Howe, Legal Director for Surfrider Foundation.
"Nothing we use for 5 minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years," said Dan Jacobson, State Director for Environment California. "We thank Senator/ now Sec. of State Padilla, Senate President De León and Senator Lara for their leadership. California is protecting our oceans and our neighborhoods. The out of state plastic bag industry should re-think their plans to repeal our law."
"Out-of-state plastic bag makers (like South Carolina-based Hilex Poly) were no match for thousands of dedicated California environmental advocates, who called and sent letters and emails to their representatives in the Assembly and Senate and to the governor," noted Jenesse Miller, Communications Director for California League of Conservation Voters. "And at the end of the day, the grassroots pressure from environmental advocates will prevail against the industry’s attempts to repeal the new law."
Non-biodegradable, plastic bags persist in the environment for decades, while their useful life is typically measured in minutes. Plastic bags pollute our waterways and beaches, litter our neighborhoods and parks, and gravely threaten wildlife.
"California's ban of polluting single-use plastic bags was a result of arduous work by a strong and diverse coalition of supporters," said NRDC’s Linda Escalante. "Coastal and inland communities joined forces to successfully ensure that our neighborhoods, parks, waterways and oceans are freed from plastic bag litter. This broad coalition stands united and committed to prevent any undoing of this new law by out of state plastic bag companies."
It will be funded by business and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, California League of Conservation Voters, Surfrider Foundation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
California vs. Big Plastic will be led by a veteran bipartisan political team that has worked to defeat a number of ballot measures including Proposition 23 in 2008, an attempt by out-of-state oil companies to repeal AB32, the state's greenhouse gas law. They include Republicans Joe Rodota of Forward Observer and Mike Madrid of Grassroots Lab, and Democrats Steven Maviglio of Forza Communications and Alexa Bluth, who also worked on Prop 39, the successful effort to close corporate loopholes to finance clean energy projects.
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