Texas cities have the wrong idea about what should be banned in the name of environmental protection, according to one state senator.
“Plastic bags are actually the most environmentally friendly option for transporting groceries,” said state Sen. Bob Hall, an Edgewood Republican. Bans on plastic bags, he said, force consumers to use “resource heavy” alternatives, like paper and reusable bags.
That’s the argument that started a meeting of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce on Tuesday, during which senators heard testimony on Hall’s Senate Bill 103, which would prohibit Texas cities from banning single-use plastic bags.
The hearing is the first on the issue this legislatives session, and comes at a time when more Texas cities are exploring and passing bag bans.
Late last year, Galveston officials began discussing banning single-use plastic bags from retail businesses and produced a draft ordinance reflecting the ban. In November, the city council decided to defer action on the ordinance until after the legislature ended its session.
Proponents of a ban in Galveston say that prohibiting plastic bags would protect wildlife, such as migratory birds and sea turtles that might ingest the bags while on the beach.
Other cities in Texas have passed bag bans by arguing the bags clog local sewer drains or are eaten by cattle. State officials have opposed local bans, particularly ones that charge an extra fee to people who want to use single-use bags.
No local elected or appointed officials testified at Tuesday’s hearing, but two local groups that support the local ordinance were present.
Jeff Seinsheimer, the chairman of the Galveston chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, appeared before the committee wearing a costume made of plastic bags.
Seinsheimer and other environmental advocates disagreed with Hall’s environmental assessment.
“We need to get a handle on our addiction to plastic bags,” Seinsheimer said. “Galveston is such a draw for tourists because we know how to keep our island clean. We will always be faced with ocean debris that washes on our shores as well as debris from the Trinity River watershed. Plastic bags cause us to be bombarded by land-based debris as well.”
Joanie Steinhaus, the director of the Gulf of Mexico Turtle Island Restoration Project, told the committee that the bill failed to address the needs of local communities.
“I see firsthand the impact on sea turtles, shorebirds and marine mammals,” said Steinhaus, who said she patrols 72 miles of shoreline daily. “They become entangled, ingest and their habitat is altered by single-use bags.”
The same hearing included discussion about two other issues related to local control, including transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft, and short-term rental housing.
Senators have proposed bills on both issues that would prohibit local regulations of such companies. Since 2015, Galveston leaders have approved regulations on the industries, which local officials say could be erased by the Senate’s proposed legislation.
The committee did not vote on the bills on Tuesday. Tuesday’s hearing was for public testimony only.