We are witnessing the unprecedented deconstruction of our federal government’s ability to protect our planet, our environment, our coasts and our ocean. Government agencies are being silenced, defunded and redirected away from doing the important work to limit carbon emission, protect public lands, manage our coasts and keep our water clean. One tactic has been to push many of these resource responsibilities to the states in the name of home rule. Unfortunately, at the state level we are seeing an alarming trend in the opposite direction, where local actions to protect our ocean, waves and beaches are being thwarted at the state level. The hypocrisy is thick.
We are also witnessing an increasing trend for big business, like the plastics industry, to effectively lobby state government to block environmental action at the local level, allowing pollution in our waterways while they profit.
When it comes to pollution, the rubber hits the road in local communities. They are directly affected by the negative impacts and have to pay to address it. As a result, hundreds of communities around the country are passing local ordinances to limit plastic and water pollution. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend towards statewide preemption of local laws across the country. In these cases, the rights for cities and counties to pass local measures are being removed. That means states are taking the power away from communities by preempting their authority to address issues they are facing day in and day out. State legislatures, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Arizona, Florida and New York, have all taken away local rights to pass single-use plastic bag bans. Similar legislation is currently in play in Minnesota, Texas and South Carolina.
This statewide preemption is often driven by big industry and takes place in reaction to local legislation that is in process or has already been passed. For example, a bill that was recently approved by the state governor of New York will basically undo the New York City plastic bag fee, which was passed into law in 2016. The largest plastic bag manufacturer in the U.S., Novolex, effectively pushed the statewide preemption attempt forward with their ‘Bag the Tax NYC’ campaign. As a result, the successful multi-year grassroots efforts that led to the single-use plastic bag law for New York City will essentially be undone.
Not only are big industries driving this manipulation of the state and local power dynamic, but the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has also made preemption a feature of its new playbook. ALEC is an organization where corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote on ‘model bills’ that often benefit corporations’ bottom lines at the public’s expense. Special corporate interests know that they have more political influence at the state level and are trying to leverage their power to minimize the democratic process of local municipalities. Preemption is limiting the ability for concerned citizens to address important issues at the local level because state legislature has seized the power, often to the benefit of corporate special interests.
The ability for citizens and local government to address local pollution issues is critical. It is not only essential that we take action at the local level, but we must also protect our right to create change in our cities and communities. Get involved with grassroots organizations that are working on the ground across the country, such as the Surfrider Foundation; call your state legislator and oppose any preemption bills at the state level; let your local elected officials know about this trend and how their positive work can be undone by special interests. Join the conversation on social media channels to help support other battles around the nation where local opportunities are being usurped by special interests and big industry. We must ensure that our local democratic processes are strong and protected in order to allow future leaders open pathways to get involved and create change for a healthier ocean, coast and planet.
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