Shortly before being sworn in as governor, Greg Abbott called for doing away with local bans on plastic bags, fracking and tree-cutting that he says amount to a “patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”
Austin has bans on plastic bags and one of the state’s most involved tree removal ordinances. Apart from the political question of whether local-control-minded Republican lawmakers have the stomach to overturn local ordinances, there lingers a more practical matter: Have such rules been effective?
The short answer: looks like they are.
The data on Austin’s bag ban is scant — Austin Resource Recovery has only now commissioned a study of the effect of the ban, but anecdotal evidence from groups that track trash around town suggest it has had an impact.
“In my own community, around Bartholomew Park (in Northeast Austin), we always had an enormous amount of plastic bags that would gather,” said Rodney Ahart, executive director of Keep Austin Beautiful, which educates consumers about reusing plastic bags but didn’t take an official position on the ban. “Now you don’t see the plastic bags anymore.”
No retailers have been penalized or fined, said Emlea Chanslor, a spokeswoman for Austin Resource Recovery.
Fewer than 1 percent of H-E-B’s customers buy $1 emergency plastic bags at the checkout, according to the grocery store chain’s spokeswoman Leslie Sweet, suggesting the ordinance has had the intended effect of getting customers to reuse their bags.
Darren Hodges, a City Council member in the West Texas town of Fort Stockton, which has adopted a plastic bag ban of its own, had this to say in recent American-Statesman opinion piece: “I don’t know when the new governor was last in Fort Stockton, but it is certainly not becoming like California.”
You’ll have to forgive Greg Abbott; he doesn’t get out much. I don’t know if much will come of his stated intent to crush local control – it wasn’t part of his State of the State address – but I continue to marvel at the fetishization of state government over any other form. I have to think there’s some potential to turn the kind of anti-federal rhetoric that Abbott at al love to use against them, as they do (or try to do) to cities what they claim Washington does to Texas. Maybe not that much, I don’t know. But I feel like the more people see stuff like this as successful, the more open they’ll be to an argument that trying to shut it down isn’t right. It’s a start.