Editor's note: The following is a response from State Senator Kevin de León to this op-ed by Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council Member Baker Montogmery: Why Kevin de León Helped Kill the Plastic Bag Ban
Politics is about finding a
balance often among competing needs. Given the choice, I will always defer to
addressing basic financial needs - especially for those who are the most
However, I also believe that we can have both a strong economy and a healthy environment; it is very frustrating when these goals are pitted against each other by extremists on either side. The State Senate district I represent includes communities that are very poor and also have high concentrations of pollution. As a representative for these residents, I have to support solutions, when they exist, that can be a win-win for both the environment and the economy. Considering the real life consequences of the policies we make, I don’t have the luxury of prioritizing one issue while ignoring the other.
As someone who sees myself as a champion for the environment, it was disappointing to see this type of zero-sum environmentalism spouted in a recent blog posting about my vote on a bill to adopt a statewide ban on plastic bags, Senate Bill 405 (Padilla). When SB 405 came to the Senate floor for a vote earlier this year, I raised my concerns openly and publicly about policies that only banned plastic bags without also addressing the impacts the policy would have on California workers. I am especially concerned given that one of the largest producers of plastic bags is located just a few blocks outside my district. Crown Poly in Huntington Park employs over 300 workers, many of whom are my constituents. A state policy that would ban the use of a product they manufacture without any provisions for helping the workers misses the mark. Ultimately, the fact that the bill didn’t address the needs of the workers compelled me to withhold my support. Yet, the blog’s author questions whether my concern for hundreds of people losing their jobs is enough reason to oppose this measure. Clearly, we need to be thoughtful about our approach because our well-intentioned environmental policies will easily hurt California workers in the process.
Here are some additional important points that were missed in the blog post:
I have long supported a phase-out of single use plastic bags and a transition to reusable bags. In fact, in 2010, I supported then Assembly Member Brownley’s Assembly Bill 1998, which would have implemented a phase out of single use plastic bags. However, unlike SB 405, AB 1998 contained language and resources to support the transition of California plastic bag manufacturers and jobs to reuse and recycling.
While plastic bags pose environmental impacts, it’s also true that the next likely alternative, the single-use paper bag, also has many environmental impacts. These impacts were articulated in the City of LA’s analysis, which include: greater greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, atmospheric acidification and ozone production, compared to a plastic bag over its lifetime. In the case of plastic bags, like many environmental issues, it can’t just be about getting rid of something without addressing what alternative will replace it.
I am concerned about Latina immigrant workers and the impact a plastic bag ban would have on them. Their families heavily depend upon the salaries they earn in order to make ends meet. Eliminating their jobs without concern for their future is irresponsible. Workers like these cannot lose a job on Friday and get a new one on Monday. As someone who cares deeply about the future of our state and our city, I think we should all be concerned about the future for women and other immigrant workers. These workers, like many others, don’t have the benefit of Hollywood stars calling legislators on their behalf. Frankly, I received many calls from outside my district regarding SB 405, including from several well-known Hollywood stars living in Pacific Palisades and Malibu. However, I received less than a handful of calls in support of the bill from actual constituents from my district, and many more in opposition to the measure. Again, why shouldn’t I care about women immigrant workers – particularly those who took the time to express their very real fears regarding their jobs?
The blog post incorrectly cited job losses at 15 jobs. The analysis referenced only looked at the potential impact a City of LA plastic bag ban could have on Crown Poly’s operations. That analysis did not look at the impacts of a statewide ban, which one might surmise could be ten times the job loss impact on Crown Poly alone. Not to mention the impacts to other plastic bag manufacturers in California. The blog post also mentioned that since Command Packaging in Vernon, located in my district, manufactures reusable bags they wouldn’t be impacted. However, in conversations I’ve had with Command Packaging, which employs 250 people, they express concerns that plastic bag bans absent transition assistance for the industry could have severe negative impacts on their business.
Lastly, Fabian Nuñez is a close friend of mine. We grew up together and I consider him family. Just because I happen to receive a phone call from him while I was speaking with the author of the said blog post is a reflection of nothing more than the fact that we’re friends. To suggest that the call indicated anything with regard to SB 405 is insulting and frankly absurd.
Again, how is it that the impact on workers doesn’t seem to be an important enough reason to influence my vote on a policy? When politics is viewed as more important than real impacts on people, that’s when the environmental movement fails. We have the opportunity to create a solution that accomplishes both goals of improving the environment and helping the economy. Californians shouldn’t have to settle for a state policy that only addresses one part of the equation, nor will I.