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›› UPFRONT

Plastic bags set to pop! County supes inflated over possible single-use bag ban at groceries by Peter Seidman

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he county of Marin this week joined a growing roster of countries, states and communities putting the brakes on the consumption of single-use plastic bags—almost. Last month, the San Jose City Council approved the state’s toughest prohibitions against plastic bags. Starting January 2012, grocery stores, pharmacies and other retailers must stop distributing free single-use plastic bags. They can sell paper bags made of 40 percent recycled material for 10 cents each. That price gradually will increase to 25 cents by 2014. On Jan. 1, Italy instituted a law designed to reduce single-use plastic bags. Bangladesh was among the first countries to place prohibitions on plastic bags. China also prohibits plastic bags. It’s a movement that Ireland led when it placed a tax on plastic bags in 2002. Weeks later, the use of the bags had declined 94 percent. The California Legislature, after heavy lobbying, barred placing a fee on plastic bags in the state. That was just one of the repeated attempts by bag manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council to block plastic-bag bans in California. The one example here (until now) was in Fairfax, when councilmembers there proposed a ban on plastic bags in 2007. It wasn’t long before bag manufacturers

threatened to sue the town. Plastics manufacturers said Fairfax had violated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) rules that call for an environmental impact report. The town could not call for a ban on only plastic bags without assessing the environmental consequences of such an action, and a proper review would consider the effects on a ban of plastic and paper bags, biodegradable bags and other alternatives, the manufactures said, and the town had done nothing to move in that direction. Conducting an environmental review to meet CEQA guidelines can cost from $50,000 to $250,000. Fairfax took the issue in another direction and put it on the ballot, where 79 percent voted for it. Going to the ballot exempted the ban from the CEQA rules on which the American Chemistry Council based its objection. But the tactic chilled other communities that had been considering bag bans. San Jose was forced into an environmental review process before moving forward with enacting its bag ban. In addition to Fairfax, jurisdictions that have adopted bag bans include Malibu, Manhattan Beach (now being heard in the California Supreme Court), Palo Alto, San Francisco, Los Angeles County and San Jose. Many other California communities are in the process of moving in that direc10 >

›› NEWSGRAMS Supes call for moratorium on SmartMeters Marin Supervisors blasted a signal of their own back at Pacific Gas and Electric, calling for a year-long moratorium on the installation of the controversial radio-frequency emitting SmartMeters. In their 4-0 vote, the Supes were acting on an “urgency ordinance” drafted by county counsel this week in an attempt to halt the placing of the meters in various unincorporated areas of the county—including all of West Marin, where PG&E installation attempts have met with protests and acts of “civil disobedience.” The ordinance calls for PG&E to suspend its installations until an impending study of the meters by the California Council of Science and Technology is released. The meter guidelines fall under the purview of the California Public Utilities Commission, so any county-level moratorium is basically symbolic. PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith, however, has indicated that the utility will forge ahead with the installations in spite of the supervisors’ request. But a similar “moratorium” by the town of Fairfax has thus far halted PG&E’s installation of the meters—which have raised health concerns over the use of radio frequencies to track household energy use, and put the utility on the defensive over how it will use the information gathered from the SmartMeters. Last week, SmartMeters installers from Wellington Energy, a company hired by PG&E to put the controversial radio-frequency meters on Marin properties, found their paths to multiple residences blocked by neighbors and members of a group called West Marin Citizens Against Wireless SmartMeters. Sheriff’s deputies were called to the scene Dec. 28 and 29; two women were taken into custody following the Wednesday morning incident along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard near Inverness Park. Barry Smith, co-director of the West Marin Community Coalition for Environmental Health, says the utility could resolve the contentious situation by offering an opt-out alternative to the meters.“It is increasingly baffling why they do not,” says Smith.“Why are they in such a hurry? If this technology is safe and their goal is to reach out to the customer and listen to their concerns, then why are they trying to install SmartMeters as fast as possible in central and West Marin County? Why forcibly install SmartMeters on an unwilling customer base when an alternative is readily available?” Judge sends hospital fight to arbitration The healthcare fight between Sutter and Marin General will have to seek a second opinion—as a Marin Superior Court judge has ordered the legal dispute over an allegedly misappropriated $120 million be settled through arbitration. The Marin General Hospital Corp. filed suit against Sutter last year claiming the Sacramento-based health conglomerate conducted a “reprehensible” removal of $120 million from the hospital’s coffers. The suit, filed in August in Marin Superior Court, claims that ever since 2006, when the healthcare corporation announced it would sever ties with the Greenbrae hospital in 2010, Sutter Health had removed $30 million per year from Marin General’s reserves. In the five years prior, according to the suit, Sutter had never made a “cash sweep” 10 >

8 PACIFIC SUN JANUARY 7, 2011 - JANUARY 13, 2011

Pacific Sun Weekly 01.07.2011  

Section 1 of the January 07. 2011 edition of the Pacific Sun Weekly

Pacific Sun Weekly 01.07.2011  

Section 1 of the January 07. 2011 edition of the Pacific Sun Weekly

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