Councilmember Yvette Alexander appeared on Thursday’s Kojo Nnamdi show to discuss her support for the Anacostia Cleanup and Protection Act (the “bag bill”). She pushed back against claims that the bill would harm poor residents, citing its many protections for needy residents including free bags that the Department of the Environment will distribute. Alexander also said that the bill’s sponsors were investigating ways to help food stamp recipients, who can’t use their federal allocations to buy the bags directly. Alexander also refuted the idea that poor communities don’t care about the environment:
No matter what your income, and no one is more concerned than me, but it does not excuse you from being environmentally conscious and responsible. It’s an education piece. I want to educate each and every one of my constituents and they need to be responsible. We cannot keep making excuses and trying to shift away from the real issue. You know, we do have residents that are low-income. We do have residents who are struggling out here. But this is also the time to educate and empower them, and I think this is one initiative to do that.
Food banks have been divided on this issue, with Bread For the City coming out in support while representatives of Covenant Baptist Church’s food bank testified in opposition. Covenant’s food bank coordinator, George Franklin, appeared on the show as well to oppose the bill, fundamentally because they use thousands of bags a month. He argued that a recession is not the time to do this and Maryland, which contributes a lot of the trash, ought to do their part as well. But callers pointed out that DC’s example could spur action in Maryland, that residents in numerous countries including Ukraine easily adapted to bringing reusable bags.
Ultimately, the bill seems to bend over backwards to minimize every possible impact on the needy. It’s sad that Covenant is choosing to argue that protecting the river isn’t worth even the very minimal impacts under this most accommodating bill, while other food organizations like Bread For the City are trying to constructively address any flaws and help the hungry and the environment at the same time. Local blogs in River East have also announced their support, including the excellent and increasingly influential Congress Heights On the Rise. Update: and River East Idealist.
The bill now depends on the two Committee chairs who have jurisdiction over the bill. They are Mary Cheh (ward 3), Chair of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, and Jack Evans (ward 2), who runs the Committee on Finance and Revenue. Cheh is a clear supporter, and Evans also cosponsored the bill, though he took some time at the hearing to give voice to opposition concerns as well.
At least one group didn’t help the bill’s cause: during the hearing, Evans announced that he’d just received a text message telling him that some unknown people had taped hundreds of plastic bags to his fence. He didn’t know which side did it, he said. Either way, this is very uncool. Supporters just risk alienating someone who was already on their side, and inevitably some of the bags will end up coming loose, polluting the neighborhood. As for opponents, how would it support their message? Isn’t it great bags are free so we can annoy people with them?
Assuming Evans lets the bill out of his committee promptly, it still looks to have a good chance of passing. Eleven Councilmembers still publicly support it, with Graham remaining undecided. Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. pulled his support, but hasn’t made a public statement. The plastic industry has been lobbying him hard. They’ve also been pushing Alexander, funding robocalls in her ward criticizing her for her support. Kudos to Alexander for standing up to Big Plastic and recognizing how even poor communities benefit from a clean and healthy environment.