Politics & Government

Senate votes to repeal Outer Banks plastic bag ban

Plastic bags on an Outer Banks beach.
Plastic bags on an Outer Banks beach. Outer Banks Sentinel

Banning plastic shopping bags from Outer Banks beaches – a personal mission of former Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight eight years ago – would be undone in a bill Republican lawmakers are pushing.

Senate Bill 434 would repeal the bag ban, lessen stream protections and deregulate other environmental procedures as part of the GOP’s ongoing drive to give businesses a break from what they consider unnecessary or overly burdensome rules.

Environmental groups and Democratic senators oppose the bill, which was approved in the Senate on Monday and now goes to the House. The vote was 31-17, mostly split along party lines.

“There’s a lot of anti-business wrapped up in that ban on plastic bags,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale, said in a committee meeting earlier Monday. “I’m glad to see that gone.”

The N.C. Retail Merchants Association says paper bags cost eight times more than plastic bags, and that the law includes a complicated refund process that puts stores in danger of fines and penalties if they don’t comply. A lobbyist for the association said members on the Outer Banks support a repeal of the ban.

Asked about opposition to lifting the repeal from the local chamber of commerce, five town governments and Dare County, bill sponsor Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican from Beaufort County, said the ban has not been effective.

“You have to look at the reality of this, not how good it makes you feel,” Cook said. “The evidence seen so far is this ban has not been useful.”

A mandated study on the effectiveness of the ban conducted by the state’s environmental agency found no correlation between the new law and the number of plastic bags that had been collected in beach-cleaning drives in Dare County between 2008 and 2011.

If enacted, the law would allow local communities to adopt their own plastic bag bans. The bill affects the barrier islands and peninsulas of Dare, Currituck and Hyde counties.

Basnight, a powerful Democrat from Manteo who owned a restaurant there, relentlessly pushed the bill to help rid the beaches of wafting bags.

Another provision in the bill would limit local governments imposing stream-side buffers to no more stringent than the state’s standards. Also, it would repeal the buffers – areas where development is prohibited – that are in place now on the Catawba River. Sen. Joel Ford, a Democrat from Charlotte, asked bill sponsor Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory if he could cite any scientific reason for repealing the Catawba protections, and Wells could not; he said it was common sense.

“The Senate appears to be becoming a no-science zone,” Molly Diggins, state director of The Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Yet the threats to our environment demand laws that are supported by careful research and informed by a full discussion of relevant data, with broad stakeholder input. Legislation by personal opinion has no place in environmental policy.”

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO