Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers are again taking aim at Philadelphia’s efforts to ban plastic bags.
A provision in the 2020-21 budget package approved Thursday by the state Senate and House could derail the bag ban that City Council passed in December and was set to take effect next January.
The language would prevent municipalities from enforcing regulations on single-use plastics until at least July 1, 2021. The provision essentially extends a last-minute budget provision inserted last year by Senate Republicans that prohibited bans on plastic bags through July 2020.
Months later, Philadelphia’s bill passed after years of failed attempts in City Council to regulate plastic bag use. But after the coronavirus pandemic struck, Mayor Jim Kenney announced last month — despite disagreement from environmental activists and the bill’s sponsor — that he would delay implementation of the bag ban until January.
Other municipalities also planned around last year’s restrictions from Harrisburg. In West Chester, the borough council voted to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags but also scheduled it to take effect in July.
The amendment to the state fiscal code introduced Thursday in Harrisburg would halt those local regulations by prohibiting plastic regulations until July 1, 2021, or until six months after Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus state of emergency order is lifted — whichever is later.
The Senate sent the budget bill to the GOP-controlled House for consideration, which approved the Senate’s changes Thursday evening. Wolf would not be able to reject the plastic bag provision without vetoing the entire budget.
His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) pushed for the prohibition on plastic regulations last year, which included a request that the state study the environmental and economic impact. Corman said last year that he did so because his district includes a plastic-bag manufacturer and a town that was considering a fee for plastic bags.
His spokesperson, Jenn Kocher, said Thursday that Corman wasn’t behind the amendment to this year’s budget bill, but said “it makes sense” to extend the measure during the pandemic.
“Sen. Corman has indicated that now is not the time to be banning plastic bags made from recycled materials,” she said, “when grocery stores have actually banned shoppers from bringing reusable bags into the stores due to concerns over spreading the virus.”
The Kenney administration is still reviewing the provision in the budget bill, city spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco said Thursday. She said the city generally opposes state efforts to preempt local laws.
“We oppose preemption of commonsense gun laws, local minimum wage increases, and efforts like this to preempt us from enforcing regulations we know will positively impact the environment far into the future,” Cofrancisco said.
State Rep. Greg Vitali (D., Delaware), who spoke out against the provision on the House floor Thursday, said in an interview that he was disappointed but not surprised to see the provision in the budget bill.