Environment

GOP introduces bills to roll back renewable energy standard, repeal plastic bag ban

Plastic bags, once banned for commercial use on the Outer Banks, could make a comeback under a new House bill. Discarded bags can harm marine life, which mistaking them for food, eat them. (Photo: Wikicommons)

In 10,000 years, archaeologists will excavate our landfills and ask one another, “What was the deal with the 21st century obsession with plastic bags?”

The environmental bane –500 billion used worldwide each year — litter the roadsides, tree branches and, most important for the Outer Banks, the beach and the sea. Turtles and other marine life can get entangled in the bags, or eat them, mistaking them for food. Plastic bags and other plastic items do not biodegrade, but just break down into tinier pieces.

There is some division even among environmental groups about which is worse for the planet, paper or plastic. But the plastic bag’s harm to the marine life is irrefutable.

For these reasons, retailers on the barrier islands — Ocracoke, Hatteras and Bodie islands, and Corolla and Carova in Currituck County  — have been prohibited from providing plastic bags since 2010.

But that requirement would now be only voluntary under House Bill 271, which will be introduced today. In effect, it would repeal the ban on plastic bags on the Outer Banks. In its place, the bill allows for a “voluntary educational program informing citizens of the availability of recycling sites throughout the entire State.”

The bill contains several problems First, people can already recycle their plastic bags at the grocery store. Yet, discarded bags are ubiquitous, indicating that mere encouragement isn’t working. Secondly, it’s difficult to recycle this type of plastic. It doesn’t melt easily.  The bill also contains language that “businesses were required to pay consumers for bringing reusable bags to the stores.” The payment came in the form of a credit per bag — 5 cents. Customers could also request a paper bag. Nonetheless, the bill contends the ban allegedly has hindered business’ ability to hire more employees and expand. Well, plastic bags are a job creator: Somebody has to be paid to pick them up off the beach.

Primary sponsors: Three Republicans, Reps. John Bell, John Bradford and Beverly Boswell.

The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard turns 10 this year. Under the REPS, as it’s known, electric utilities have been required to sell a portion of their power from solar, wind and other clean sources. And almost every year since its passage, there conservative lawmakers have tried undo it. So far, those attempts have failed, but the measure returns this year in the form of House Bill 267, which  would rollback requirements under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

In 2012, the requirement was 3 percent of a utility’s 2011 retail sales; in 2015, that percentage increased to 6 percent of 2014 sales. Next year, that percentage was scheduled to increase to 10 percent, and ultimately reach 12.5 percent by the year 2021. But HB 267 reduces  the mandate to just 8 percent, without any future increases. Under the REPS, energy efficiency is allowed to account for up to a quarter of a utility’s savings. The new bill increases that number to up to 40 percent.

Primary sponsors: Reps. Jimmy Dixon and John Bell, both Republicans.

 

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