NH House passes two plastic bag bills

  • A shopper places her goods into her car outside a supermarket in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. New Zealand plans to ban disposable plastic shopping bags by next July as the nation tries to live up to its clean-and-green image. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday that New Zealanders use hundreds of millions of the bags each year and that some of them end up polluting the precious coastal and marine environment. (AP Photo/Mark Baker) Mark Baker

  • FILE - This July 17, 2018, file photo, shows wrapped plastic straws at a bubble tea cafe in San Francisco. Avoiding single-use plastics like straws, plastic bags and water bottles is easier than it seems and can feel empowering, say those who've managed to stop using them altogether. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File) Jeff Chiu

Concord Monitor
Published: 1/9/2020 9:50:03 PM
Modified: 1/9/2020 9:49:26 PM

CONCORD — The New Hampshire House passed two bills to regulate single-use plastics Thursday, furthering an effort by Democrats to crack down on waste from plastic bags and straws.

Members of the House voted largely along party lines to impose a mandatory plastic bag charge for all New Hampshire shoppers.

House Bill 559 would require that New Hampshire stores charge between 10 and 50 cents for plastic bags given to customers at the point of sale. And it would require stores to carry plastic bags of a minimum thickness — 4 one-thousandths of an inch, or mils.

The bill would give stores the discretion of how high the charge could be, with a cap of 50 cents.

The House also passed House Bill 102, which would give towns the power to set their own regulations, in a 215-151 decision. The bill would allow towns and cities to pass bylaws “regulating the distribution of single-use plastic bags and paper bags to customers” — a power they currently don’t have.

Democrats presented the latter bill as a means to enable towns to set plastic regulation policies according to what residents want. And they said the statewide charge would help nudge consumers toward reusable bags and other sustainable alternatives, while preserving the availability of bags for those who wanted them.

Rep. Clyde Carson, D-Warner, who chairs the Municipal and County Government committee, pointed to a decision by China in 2018 to cut back on its acceptance of recycled plastic from the U.S. and other countries. That move has forced American towns to scramble in recent years to find alternative outlets.

“Disposable single-use plastic has become a costly issue,” he said. “Single-use plastic bags have become a particular problem.”

Providing New Hampshire towns the ability to set their own regulations could help towns handle their specific waste needs, Carson said. And the legislation would only enable selectboards and other governing bodies to do it, rather than force them to, he said.

Carson also applauded the statewide plastic bag charge, specifying that the intent of the bill was not to increase costs to customers but to encourage them to seek renewable alternatives.

“The intention is to have consumers bring bags from home,” he said.

But Republicans called the bills an overreach that would hurt business. They argued that giving towns the option to set their own regulations could result in a patchwork system that would frustrate tourists and grocery chains looking for uniformity. And they said that a statewide per-bag surcharge would take a hit on New Hampshire stores near the state’s borders and drive consumers into other states.

“People hate bans,” said Rep. Max Abramson, a Seabrook Libertarian. “They really hate bans. And when shoppers go elsewhere … the whole state loses jobs and revenue.”

In a statement after the vote, House Republican Leader Dick Hinch took aim at the town-enabling legislation, arguing the power should not be handed over.

“Allowing towns to essentially ban plastic and paper bags opens the door to so much more government overreach,” he said. “Next thing you know, you’ll have to bring your own coffee mug to Dunkin’ in the morning in some towns.”

The bills move over to the Senate. An earlier plastic bill that targeted plastic straws by requiring that customers specifically ask for straws to get them — House Bill 558 — was killed by the Senate last year.

Gov. Chris Sununu has so far not received any of the major plastic regulation bills to his desk.

Energy-efficiency bills

Members of the House voted to pass two Senate bills intended to reduce carbon emissions in the state. Senate Bill 122 would change the way the state’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative energy efficiency funds are used. Instead of passing residential funds back to ratepayers, the bill would divert them to school districts for energy-efficiency projects. That bill passed, 212-140.

The House also approved Senate Bill 124, which would update the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard — the regulation enforcing a certain percentage of renewable energy sources. The bill would steadily increase the required share of wind, geothermal, tidal and solar power 0.9% a year on top of the current standards. The end result: 28.5% of New Hampshire’s energy sourced from wind, geothermal, and tidal energy sources, and 18.7% sourced from solar power, by 2040.

The vote was 214-141, with Republican opponents arguing that it would drive up electric rates and reduce consumer choice.

Carbon pricing fee tabled

Not all the green energy bills made it through.

The House voted Thursday to table House Bill 735, a bill that would have imposed a fee on any companies selling carbon-based fuel in the Granite State. The bill would have set a $20 fee for any fuel sold, used or imported in the state with the revenue going in part to support greenhouse gas reduction programs. Supporters had said the measure would shift the state to using homegrown energy sources such as solar and hydropower. But opponents pointed to estimates that the measure could lead to $800 million in new taxes.

The bill was tabled, 187-172; Republicans had favored killing it.

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