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Banning plastic grocery bags just got easier in California [Updated]

July 14, 2011 | 10:49 am

Plastic The California Supreme Court made it easier Thursday for cities to prohibit stores from distributing  plastic grocery bags, ruling that state law didn't require Manhattan Beach to do an environmental impact study before imposing a plastic-bag ban in 2008.

The court's unanimous ruling overturned two lower-court decisions and provided guidance to a growing number of cities that want to ban plastic grocery bags for environmental reasons. Environmentalists say plastic bags end up in landfills, add to the litter in parks and on beaches, and are ingested by fish and whales.

San Francisco, Malibu, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Marin County and unincorporated Los Angeles County have enacted bans.

A group representing makers of plastic bags sued to block Manhattan Beach's ban, arguing the city failed to study whether the ban would harm the environment by increasing use of paper bags.

Justice Carol A. Corrigan, writing for the court, said substantial evidence and "common sense" supported the city's contention that the environment would not be harmed.

[Updated, 12:20 p.m., July 14: In ruling for Manhattan Beach, the court said the legal "analysis would be different for a ban on plastic bags by a larger governmental body, which might precipitate a significant increase in paper bag consumption."

Stephen L. Joseph, who represented the plastic-bag industry, said he was pleased the court determined that bag makers may bring such lawsuits in the future. He also contended that larger communities would likely be subject to environmental impact reviews when trying to ban plastic bags.

Los Agneles County did an environmental review before imposing its ban, but Marin County did not, he said.

James G. Moose, who represented Californians Against Waste, said the ruling means the plastic-bag industry will no longer be able to fight such bans by citing generic studies that have little to do with the community imposing the prohibition.

Some larger communities may be required to do environmental reviews, but "each case turns on its own facts," he said.

"This decision makes it more difficult for people in the industry to thwart environmentally benign regulations adopted by communities in California, and it raises the bar a little bit" for requiring environmental reviews, Moose said.

Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, praised the ruling.

"This is a great day for the Pacific Ocean," he said. "Cities and counties can now move forward with plans to protect our environment -- and to safeguard the significant portion of our economy that depends on a healthy ocean and beaches."

The environmental advocacy group said 12 cities and counties have already banned plastic bags, and more than 20 others are working on similar legislation.]


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-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: A woman carries plastic bags in Culver City. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times