Will Laredo’s Plastic Bag Ban Hold Up In Court?

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 11, 2018 2:33 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

The Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday in a case about single-use plastic bag bans. In Laredo Merchants Association v. The City of Laredo, the merchants argue that the city’s prohibition on plastic bags is illegal. They say a state law preempts the local ordinance.

The law in question is the state’s Solid Waste Disposal act. It says that cities can’t “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.”

Opponents of the bag bans, like the Texas Retailers Association, say that the bans are inconsistent and place unnecessary strain on retailers.

But a coalition of environmentalists, businesses and agricultural interests have joined together to urge the court to uphold the ban.

“We work to clean up the air and the water and to divert materials from the landfills,” says Robin Schneider, executive director of the grassroots organization Texas Campaign for the Environment. “And to reduce pollution overall, and getting rid of single use bags is one way to reduce pollution in the environment.”

She says the opposition isn’t just based in an environmental perspective.

“The other groups have a lot of different interests,” Schneider says. “The cotton ginners have problems with plastic getting into the cotton, and when it’s sold, it’s worth less. Composters and recycling businesses are concerned because bags jam up the recycling equipment, the sorting equipment, and it gets mixed in with the compost, the compost is of less value.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling on the court to side with the Laredo Merchants Association.

The case could have statewide implications. If Laredo’s ban is struck down, similar ordinances in cities like Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas could be thrown out as well.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday a lawsuit against five major oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. But Big Oil is pushing back.

Houston Public Media’s Travis Bubenik takes a look at the reaction from the energy sector:

In statements, the companies targeted by the suit acknowledge the risks of climate change, but portray the case as misguided.

ExxonMobil says curbing greenhouse gas emissions requires “global participation and actions” – and that such lawsuits don’t help. Chevron says the suit is “factually and legally meritless” – and won’t address the issue of climate change.

Shell says “low-carbon choices” should be driven by policy and cultural change – not the courts.

University of Houston professor Victor Flatt says the suit continues a “drumbeat” of similar climate litigation targeting oil companies. He says these challenges haven’t necessarily changed the industry’s behavior overnight, but broader societal and business pressures on the industry over the last couple decades have.

“We see companies that have diversified heavily into natural gas, because that’s a product that’s going to last longer in the face of continued lack of demand for oil,” Flatt says. “We also now see them all publicly recognizing that humans are the main cause of climate change.”

Flatt says New York’s lawsuit could prompt similar challenges from other major cities.

Don’t get too comfortable with warm temperatures. A cold front will be pushing through the state Thursday, sending temperatures tumbling.

Parts of north Texas could see sleet and snow flurries. A second cold front is forecasted to follow on Saturday.