Washingtonians are bailing out their river, not their government, with bag tax

Blog ››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

Fox & Friends did a segment this morning with Los Angeles correspondent Anita Vogel about how some states are "in the red," and so they've decided to impose "ridiculous" taxes on consumers for "everything, including the kitchen sink, to raise some money."

Vogel had a table piled high with products that are already being taxed or may be taxed in the future, like beer, candy, blueberries, and plastic grocery bags. She specifically mentioned that the District of Columbia placed a tax on plastic bags, and said, "I mean, we all have to use these at the grocery store, right?"

Wait a minute. Nothing Vogel said about D.C.'s plastic bag tax is true. Sure, paying the tax may annoy some people, but no one has to use the bags. In fact, many DC grocery stores encourage their consumers to use reusable grocery bags and will give you a 5-cent refund if you bring your own bag. And no, the District did not impose the tax because it's "in the red" -- the tax is part of an effort to clean up the Anacostia River, which suffers from major pollution and trash problems.

The D.C. Department of the Environment estimated in its 2008 Anacostia Watershed Trash Reduction Plan that plastic bags accounted for more than 20 percent of the trash in the river and more than 45 percent in its tributary streams. The plan stated that the "single largest component of trash in the streams, and most likely in the river, is plastic bags," and it recommended "political action."

So as a result, Mayor Adrian Fenty signed The Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009 last summer, which created the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund. The legislation, which took effect this January, created a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic or paper bags. Retail establishments keep 1 cent from each bag it provides, while the remaining 4 cents go to the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund.

Preliminary reports indicate that it's working. On March 29, The Washington Post reported that "In its first assessment of how the new law is working, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue estimates that city food and grocery establishments issued about 3.3 million bags in January, which suggests a remarkable decrease. Prior to the bag tax taking effect Jan 1, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer had estimated that about 22.5 million bags were being issued per month in 2009."

Reducing trash in an unhealthy river? That's not "ridiculous."

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