Hailey, Idaho Inspires New Environmental Leaders

Earlier this month, the plastic bag ban initiative in the city of Hailey, Idaho lost by 864 to 620.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the initiative was put on the ballot through a signature drive launched by the Wood River High School Environment Club (W.A.T.E.R).  This seemed like a great high school lesson in civics, until the plastics industry caught wind of it.  Suddenly, Hailey Idaho became ground zero in the plastics industry’s campaign against these laws.  Hilex Poly, a large plastic bag manufacturer, created a website and took out television and newspaper advertisements warning that 125 that jobs at a local plastics plant could be jeopardized by the ban. The students fought back by writing editorials to the local papers, but in the end the plastics industry prevailed.

It’s important for these students to remember that even though the initiative lost, this was still a huge accomplishment.  They should take pride that they did something so meaningful as to scare a big corporation into coming to their town of 6,200 residents and spending serious money.  Luckily, the students seem to be taking the loss in stride and are considering re-focusing their energies on a nearby town.  I am working on an interview with the Hailey students to discuss their future plans and how their story can and should be used as inspiration for other student environmental groups.

I’d like to highlight a few other student-led movements that are also inspirational.

Heal the Bay in Los Angeles is holding a Youth Leadership Training Day for students to learn how to support a reusable bag campaigns in their communities.  As mentioned in an earlier post by contributor (and Santa Monica High student) Jessica Kendall-Bar, Santa Monica High School’s environmental clubs have worked non-profits, including Heal the Bay and Surfrider Foundation, to establish the plastic bag ban in Santa Monica.  The Youth Leadership Training Day will give students the knowledge to help push bag bans forward in other Los Angeles County cities.

In Orange County (CA), the South Orange County Chapter of Surfrider currently has twelve high school Surfrider groups, where the students are mentored by adult Surfrider volunteers and executive committee members.  The students attend local city council meetings, participate in “Day Without a Bag” events, and travel to Sacramento to speak with legislators.

This news from Hailey should also inspire other small cities to move forward with putting plastic bag ordinances on the ballot.  For cities small cities with the political will (i.e. enough votes) to pass these ordinances, voter initiatives are a good option that is often overlooked.  This is particularly true in California, where voter initiatives do not fall under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) restrictions and therefore are not vulnerable to lawsuits by Save the Plastic Bag Coalition the way ordinances approved by city councils are.  That’s why the Town of Farifax chose to adopt its plastic bag ordinance pursuant to a voter initiative in 2008 after threat of a CEQA lawsuit.  To date, Fairfax is the only California municipality to adopt an ordinance via voter initiative.  Voter initiatives are a viable option for some communities – and they should be seriously considered.  Hilex Poly can’t pay to lobby against plastic bag initiatives in every small town . . . right?

- Jennie R. Romer, Esq., Founder & Director, plasticbaglaws [dot] org

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