Frank Cerabino’s column on the good and bad news about environmental protection efforts with plastic
If you think it’s high time that Florida gets serious about the environmental hazards posed by single-use plastic bags, straws and polystyrene containers, there’s good news and bad news in recent developments.
It was nine years ago that the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation recommended that the state take dramatic action to curb plastic waste. The state agency called for a graduated tax on plastic bags, beginning with 5 cents per bag for the first year, then escalating to 25 cents per bag, and finally to ban plastic bags in the state by 2015.
Not only did that not happen, but it created a backlash that still exists, thanks to the lobbying heft of the Florida Retail Federation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group that writes legislation for Republican-led governments to enact.
Instead of a gradual ban on plastic bags — 88 percent of which are thrown away rather than recycled — Florida lawmakers ignored their own state agency’s recommendations while passing a law that preempted the power of any local government in the state to pass an ordinance that regulated plastic in any way.
But over time, this usurpation of home rule over plastic trash hasn’t sat well with some local governments, and a few have decided to test it.
In 2016, the city of Coral Gables defied the state law by passing a polystyrene container ban in that Miami-Dade County city.
The ordinance prompted a lawsuit by the Florida Retail Federation, and a judge ruled in favor of Coral Gables, finding that the state law was unconstitutional.
That embolded other cities, including the Town of Palm Beach, which in July became the first Palm Beach County municipality to ban most single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers in restaurants, grocery and drug stores, gas stations and vending trucks.
That’s because last month a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal overturned the finding in the Coral Gables case, ruling that the state does have the power to preempt local plastic bans.
So, on Tuesday, the Town Council in Palm Beach, is scheduled to formally rescind the ordinance it had passed two months earlier.
Plastic not only clogs landfills, but much of it works its way to the ocean, where it poisons sea life, degrades water quality and collects through currents in giant floating mats. The World Economic Forum predicted there would be more plastic by weight in oceans than fish by the year 2050.
Plastic straws weren’t specifically addressed in the earlier statewide plastic preemption in Florida, so cities have also been passing local ordinances to ban single-use plastic straws.
And that has also resulted in new action from the state legislature, which passed a bill this year that calls for a five-year enforcement moratorium on local laws that ban plastic straws.
Once again, the efforts of local communities to take their own environmental protection actions was being thwarted by state lawmakers.
But wait. Here comes the sliver of good news for Florida’s environment. And perhaps a harbinger of new direction.
“The state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process,” DeSantis wrote in his veto letter. “Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views. ”
This is a monumental shift. Allowing local jurisdictions to come up with their own laws on plastic shows that DeSantis is more environmentally friendly than his Republican predecessors.
And he’s willing to break with his party’s strategy to use state law to stifle local environmental initiatives.
Post time: Sep-11-2019