April 30, 2014

Commissioners Push Plastic Bag Fee (and Other Environmental Programs) on Earth Day

City Dope

Photo Credit: Blake Aued

The Georgia Climate Change Coalition held an Earth Day rally outside City Hall Tuesday, Apr. 22, and three-quarters of our progressive government-in-exile, commissioners Kelly Girtz, Jerry NeSmith and Jared Bailey (Allison Wright is the other) took the opportunity to talk up a laundry list of environmental initiatives.

Bailey reiterated his push to discourage the use of plastic bags by charging a fee (something Girtz and Tim Denson favor, as well). "It's something we need to do," he said. "Those plastic bags don't break down, they break apart, and they often end up in our streams." And the community is paying to clean them up, he said.

Critics of the idea, like Mayor Nancy Denson, say that the fee would disproportionately affect the poor. Not so, said Bailey. "If you were on a reduced income and money was tight, you would bring your own bags," he said. "If you cared about the environment, you would bring your own bags."

Retailers might be resistant at first, he said, but plastic bags cost them money, so they'd get on board. And they'd get to keep part of the fee.

NeSmith, who was instrumental in founding the Athens Farmers Market, said Athens-Clarke County should support and expand local agriculture, noting that the broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average of 1,800 miles, burning fossil fuels and losing nutrition the whole way. 

He also proposed revising the local building code to provide incentives for gray water and rainwater plumbing systems, energy-efficient light fixtures and solar power. (Nancy has kept a "green building" ordinance written in the waning days of the Heidi Davison administration on hold for more than three years.)

Girtz told the small crowd to continue demanding better of their elected officials on recycling, transit and alternative transportation, and to push private developers to do a better job. "Keep up the pressure on us," he said.