The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to levy a 5-cent fee on most plastic and paper shopping bags consumed in the District in an effort to slash their popularity and reduce river pollution.
The immediate goal of the legislation, which earned unanimous preliminary approval, is to encourage the use of reusable bags by instituting a fee on bags used by grocery stores, liquor stores, drugstores and convenience stores. The ultimate aim is to rid the Anacostia River of garbage by tackling one of the most common pollutants.
“There was a time in our history, not long ago, when we somehow got along without these things,” Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans said of plastic bags. “They were an invention of convenience. They're lightweight and they're everywhere.”
Under the bill, written by Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, retailers retain 1 cent of the 5-cent fee, while the remaining revenue is funneled into an Anacostia cleanup fund. The fee is expected to generate an estimated $3.6 million in 2010 alone.
The council must vote on the measure a second time.
In other council news, a proposal to slash Mayor Adrian Fenty’s summer youth employment program from 10 weeks to six weeks was narrowly rejected. The emergency legislation, offered by Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, needed nine votes but got only seven.
“At this late date I don't think it makes sense to change the rules on these young people, cut their time nearly in half,” said at-large Councilman David Catania, arguing against Barry’s measure.
Barry, the architect of the original summer jobs program, argued against emptying the Community Benefit Fund — a pot of tax revenue collected in the Nationals Park area — of its $23.4 million to pay for the 2009 version, as Fenty has suggested. Instead, Barry demanded that Fenty come up with a “reliable source of revenue.”
Roughly 22,000 young people have signed up to start work on June 18.
“What’s going to happen to these young people when they’re on the streets for four weeks less than they’ve been promised?” asked Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas, who opposed Barry’s bill.
Wells, meanwhile, withdrew his emergency legislation to create an early summer curfew for youth 15 and under. Wells did not have nine votes to pass it, he said, but he promised to bring it back in two weeks as an amendment to an anticipated emergency crime bill.