The plastic bag tax/ban debate has reached Washington, D.C., and it looks like it might get nasty. Marc Fisher of The Washington Post devotes his entire Potomac Confidential column to the subject today, and the plastics industry doesn't come across very well. The headline is "You Can Wrap That Red Herring in a Plastic (or Paper) Bag," and he starts by comparing the American Chemistry Council's current effort to stop a proposed bag tax in D.C. to a 1987 effort that turned back a deposit on soft drink containers, which elicited help from the NAACP and Operation Push.
A group called the Progressive Bag Affiliates, funded by the American Chemistry Council and leading bag makers, has hired Darrell Carrington, a lobbyist from Annapolis who is African American. Carrington tells me that he's making the rounds of council members' offices, arguing that any fee on bags "is going to disproportionately hit low-income people, who are predominantly minorities. That's what it is. Truth is truth." Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) has heard from more than 100 constituents who expressed their opposition, as the automated calls urged. "I'm really angry that people are portraying this as something that hurts poor people when what they're really doing is defending their own industry," she says. "It bothers me that they're making this an economic issue when the real issue is the pollution in the Anacostia River." Retorts Carrington: "That's so dismissive and disrespectful of the poor. It's easy to sit in an ivory tower and say that." When I seek a comment from Progressive Bag Affiliates, Shari Jackson, a leader of its campaign, says she'd be happy to talk. But the next thing I know, I get a call from their media wrangler, Jennifer Killinger, who says, "Unfortunately, we won't be able to participate in an interview." But I get to Mark Daniels, vice president of Hilex-Poly, the nation's largest plastic bag maker, who says the appeal to minorities "is an effective argument for us because these 'taxes' really affect the minority individuals who are walking to the store." Daniels says the industry knows there is a pollution problem. "Believe me, I'm not comfortable when I see a plastic bag in a tree, but how did it get there? When was the last time your city council went after people for littering?" He says the answer lies in more recycling, not fees or bans.Fisher will be taking part in a live Web chat today (April 2). Check out the Post's site to participate -- it's likely that he'll be getting questions on the bag tax column.