After nearly ten years of grassroots organizing, the City of Laredo joined nine other Texas cities when in passing its Single-Use Checkout Bag ordinance in 2015. The Laredo Merchants Association sued to stop it from going into effect. A State District Court Judge ruled in favor of the City of Laredo and the ordinance went into in June 2015. The 4th Court of Appeal declared the ordinance invalid on a 2 to 1 votes. The Texas Supreme Court took the case (City of Laredo vs. Laredo Merchants Association) and will hear oral arguments on January 11.
Representatives of communities and industries concerned about the impacts of single-use bag pollution have filed multiple “friend of the court” briefs with the Supreme Court of Texas. Sea turtle conservation advocates, cotton ginners, ranchers, commercial and recreational anglers, retailers, recyclers, composters, Laredo water quality advocates, former Republican State Representative Jose Aliseda have all filed these amicus briefs to urge the Court to let Laredo’s bag ordinance stand.
The amicus briefs and other court filings in the case can be found here.
Quotes from people weighing urging the Texas Supreme Court to recognize local governments’ rights to prevent bag pollution:
“Farming is a difficult profession in the best of conditions, and plastic pollution eats away at the margins of farmers and ginners. When a plastic bag gets into cotton fields it can get mechanically harvested and ginned in with our cotton, contaminating the product. The result is reduced value for our product and less money in the pockets of Texas farmers and ginners. Ordinances like Laredo’s make our efforts to reduce plastic contamination a whole lot easier, and we urge our Supreme Court to let our local governments lead in dealing with this harm to crucial Texas industries.” --Tony Williams, Texas Cotton Ginners Association
“Fishing has been an important part of the Texas culture and economy for centuries, but plastic pollution is threatening our way of life. Plastic bags last forever, and sooner or later the ones you see blowing around everywhere end up in the waterways. When fish eat them it poisons them, and the plastic soaks up other pollutants in the water, concentrating them. In addition, bags can get caught in a boat engine and lead to thousands of dollars in repair costs. Sportfishing is a $3 billion industry with thousands of jobs and dozens of communities at risk. We need a solution for plastic pollution, and we need the Supreme Court to respect the folks that have taken the lead and done what works--our local governments.” --Ed Parten, Texas Black Bass Unlimited.
“I am a conservative Republican, I believe in limited government. The state government has no business telling local governments how to handle their business when the property owners and families in a community have asked for their help. Local governments deal with the impacts of bag pollution, and if the state preempts their ability to solve this problem then taxpayers have nowhere to turn for relief. As a state lawmaker I stood up for limited government and common sense solutions to litter and other harms to South Texas businesses. I urge the Supreme Court to respect this work and let Laredo’s ordinance stand.” --Jose Aliseda, District Attorney for Bee, Live Oak and McMullen Counties and former State Representative District 35.
“Students, professors, and grassroots activists spent tens of thousands of hours over 10 years researching and assisting the City in developing the Laredo Checkout Bag Reduction Ordinance. Thus far, the ordinance has been effective in reducing the significant number of stray plastic bags in the Laredo environment. Our city, with a population of approximately 250,000 consumed some 120 million plastic checkout bags per year. A major concern all along has been that stray plastic bags that have a tendency to catch onto storm drain grates and form drain plugs, which contributes to localized flooding of city streets.” --Tricia Cortez, Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Study Center
“Although it’s retailers in Laredo who are suing to erase this protection, as a retailer with five Central Texas stores I know for a fact that not only are single-use bags not necessary for my business, they cost retailers a ton. There’s obviously a cost associated with giving them away for ‘free,’ and paying employees to pick up bags blowing around the property is an additional cost. Stores can operate without single-use bags and remain profitable and growing. I don’t buy their complaints, and I certainly can’t tolerate their attacks on neighbors that need a solution for their bag pollution. I urge the Supreme Court to trust local governments to lead when it comes to keeping their communities clean.” -- Hill Abell, Bicycle Sports Shop
“Texas has over 350 miles of coastline, and the potential for a single use plastic bag to enter the Gulf of Mexico is extremely high. Once in the Gulf, sea turtles, mammals, birds and other marine life may become entangled in the bags limiting their ability to move, feed and escape from predators. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them leading to issues with their digestive tracks, starvation and even death. As single use plastic bags decompose with exposure to the sun and water they leave micro-plastics that are still harmful to wildlife. Coastal cities in Texas have the right to pass regulations to protect our marine wildlife, so I urge the Texas Supreme Court to allow Laredo’s bag ordinance stand.” --Joanie Steinhaus, Turtle Island Restoration Network