San Francisco’s decision to not do a lengthy and costly environmental review of the possible impacts of its ban on plastic bags could imperil the law if a new lawsuit is successful.
In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the country to ban the use of plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies. It expanded the law last month to include a ban on single-use plastic bags at all businesses, including restaurants. And customers who don’t bring reusable bags will have to pay a 10-cent fee for ones merchants provide.
But a lawsuit filed in superior court Wednesday on behalf of the plastic bag industry seeks to invalidate the entire law, arguing both that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act, and that cities are pre-empted by state law from regulating restaurants.
San Francisco’s argument that it didn’t need to do an Environmental Impact Report on a plastic bag ban “is an end run around the law,” said Stephen Joseph, who filed the suit on behalf of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition.
The coalition has challenged other municipal bag bans in California. In 2011, the California Supreme Court ruled that the city of Manhattan Beach did not have to do an environmental review for its ban. But the court indicated in its decision that larger cities might be subject to review.
Joseph said that San Francisco, with its size and importance as a tourist destination, fits that model. He noted that Los Angeles County did an environmental impact report before its plastic bag ban in 2010, and his group did not take the city to court.
“We haven’t challenged anyone that’s done an EIR,” Joseph said.
City Attorney’s Office spokesman Jack Song said Thursday it was “too early to comment on the merits of the case.”