Update: House Bill 434 passed the Senate on Monday, including the provision repealing ban on plastic bags on the Outer Banks, in time for the crossover deadline.
RALEIGH – Facing a key deadline later this week, legislators last week began a full-on push to move several bills affecting the coastal region, including a controversial repeal of the plastic bag ban in place on the Outer Banks since 2009.
On Thursday morning, the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee reviewed a new environmental omnibus bill and later that afternoon added several amendments, including language that mirrors a bill introduced in the House March 7 by Rep. Beverley Boswell, R-Dare, to repeal the longstanding ban on thin, single-use plastic bags.
Boswell’s bill and yet another aimed at repealing the ban were scheduled to be heard in committee meetings earlier last week, but the bills were taken off the calendars before being heard.
The new provisions to repeal the bag ban were introduced by Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, who said it was time to end the prohibition. Cook, one of the committee co-chairs, said statistics from two beach cleanup projects before and after the ban proved it was ineffective.
“It puts an unnecessary burden on our job creators and it has become very costly to business,” he said.
Attorneys with the Southern Environmental Law Center questioned Cook’s maneuver to insert the repeal into new legislation with no notice, saying it shut out public comment.
The law center’s Brooks Pearson said local officials had planned to travel to Raleigh to challenge the repeal before the hearings were cancelled. She said the ban has strong support on the Outer Banks.
Since this year’s effort to repeal the ban began, several local boards have passed resolutions in support of the keeping the ban, including Kill Devil Hills, Manteo and Dare County. The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce has also stated its opposition to repealing the ban.
Cook called the ban a feel-good measure.
“Just because something makes you feel good doesn’t mean it really helps anything,” he said in response to Pearson. “I don’t believe this ban does anything for the environment. I think it just makes some folks feel good, but it really doesn’t help anything.”
Elizabeth Robinson, a representative of North Carolina Retail Merchants Association told senators the repeal was a top priority for the organization’s members.
“As we talk about removing red tape and impediments to business, this continues to rise to the top of our members’ radar as something they would like to see removed,” she said. “We have heard from members in the area, small and large, that do not want to comply with this ban.”
Robinson said the ban has too many requirements and said the refund system of 5 cents for customers who shop with reusable bags had been a problem to implement.
Law center Attorney Mary Maclean Asbill said some parts of the law, such as the reusable bag refund, could be fixed without a complete repeal. She said the last-minute move had made finding any compromise difficult.
“With this bad process, there’s been no chance for amendments or discussion between all these businesses of the Outer Banks and citizens of the Outer Banks,” she said.
Ivy Ingram, co-chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Outer Banks chapter, said she is hearing plenty of response to the repeal proposal.
“There’s a pretty big groundswell of opposition,” Ingram said.
When the foundation started reaching out to the towns and counties for support, Ingram said she found many were already preparing to go on record against it.
“They’re really doing it on their own,” she said. “The uproar has been so huge in opposition to the repeal.”
Ingram said Surfrider was a sponsor of the beach sweep and provided the statistics Cook cited. She said there wasn’t enough information in the report to support the senator’s conclusion. Ingram said the organization has reached out to Boswell and Cook to see if there were ways to address problems with the ban, but so far hadn’t heard back.
Either way, the clock is ticking.
The General Assembly’s crossover deadline is Thursday. Non-appropriations related bills that have not passed at least one chamber in the legislature by then are generally considered dead for the session, although exceptions happen.
Dozens of environmental provisions grouped into a half-dozen bills are expected to move through committees this week and on to floor votes ahead of the deadline.
Along with the bag ban repeal provisions in the Senate’s Environmental Amendments 2 bill, Senate Bill 434 include several changes in riparian buffer rules, including a prohibition on local governments requiring buffers wider than state or federal laws allow.
The bill also allows the state Division of Coastal Management and the Department of Environmental Quality to negotiate an agreement with the federal government to acquire dredged material easement sites and use money from the state’s shallow draft inlet-dredging fund for the sites for maintenance of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway north of Beaufort Inlet to the Virginia border.
Other items in Senate Bill 434 include another delay in the the implementation of the Jordan Lake and Fall Lake watershed rules and an attempt settle a running dispute in New Hanover County over the cost of implementing coastal stormwater requirements in one or more neighborhoods there.