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Posted at 3:57 PM ET, 12/22/2009

Broken promises on bag tax?

By editors

By Larry Hunter

On Jan. 1, many D.C. residents may be surprised to learn that they have been given an unexpected gift by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council.

That would be the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act, under which merchants in the District will have to add 5 cents per paper or plastic bag to your grocery bills. D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), with the support of various environmental groups, was the legislation’s chief backer. The stated purpose is to keep plastic bags from ending up in the Anacostia River. The law will also create a dedicated fund to assist in the much-needed cleanup of the river.

I applaud the goal of trying to slow the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags that end up in rivers, landfills and the ocean, although it is debatable whether a bag tax is the most efficient way to accomplish this. Cleaning up the Anacostia River is also commendable but would be more effectively addressed by regular line budgetary funding.

Anyone with common sense knows that paper bags have little to do with pollution in the Anacostia. The mayor, Tommy Wells and the rest of the council also surely should know that a five-cent tax per bag is a funding charade that will disproportionately affect the poor and the elderly.

To mitigate the law’s effects, the mayor and council pledged to conduct an education program and make a one-time distribution of free reusable bags to the poor and elderly. So where is the program? Where are the bags? I urge Washingtonians and the Post to check in this time next year to see what impact this legislation has had on them, on the poor and on the river. And also to see what other lumps of coal the powers that be will be voting for and placing in next year’s bag.

By editors  | December 22, 2009; 3:57 PM ET
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Well, it's not a one-time distribution of bags. Part of the fund the fee creates is specifically earmarked to pay for more free reusable bags for those who need them.

The campaign is underway, and I've seen DDOE in front of lots of grocery stores giving out bags. It's been difficult to implement the campaign before the fund that pays for it is created, but they've done a good job of it. More info is on their website:,a,1248,q,463102.asp

I certainly agree that we need to check in periodically to see how it's working, but it's definitely worth giving it a try.

Posted by: rallycap | December 23, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

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