By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Bowing to public pressure, Mayor Jorge Elorza has reversed his support for an ordinance that bans plastic retail bags and requires at least a 10-cent fee on replacement bags.
Elorza vetoed the ordinance but that doesn't mean the ban is dead. The City Council can override the veto with a vote by 10 or more members. The City Council passed the ban, 12-1, on March 15, with two members abstaining. The council hasn't decided if it will hold a vote to override the mayor's veto.
The bag ban was expected to pass smoothly at its last meeting, but residents and activist groups that hadn't spoken at prior City Council meetings and a public subcommittee hearing raised objections, as did four council members.
In a March 14 letter to Elorza, the city’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee offered its objection to the fee on paper and reusable bags.
“This policy assumes that everyone has equal access to reusable bags," the committee wrote. "That is not the case for low income families who do not drive a car. Many community members will struggle to pay the fee.”
In a press release, Elorza asked for more time to review the bag ban. “There is no harm done in taking our time to do this right, but we do risk harm if we exclude or ignore these communities and their concerns in this process.”
Elorza added that the city can adopt “a plastic bag policy that eliminates this environmental hazard from our community, while not burdening our low-income residents. By being deliberate and intentional about who is at the table, we can create an effective policy that makes our communities stronger, rather than divide us. Once that is done, I look forward to signing this into law.”
The Sierra Club Rhode Island Chapter said Elorza’s veto was a “bold move to ensure the crafting of city policy prioritizes equity, inclusion and justice. The world is plagued with deep ecological and economic crises and the solution to one type of problem should not create one of the other kind, both disproportionately impacting working class communities of color.”
If the ordinance is approved as is, Providence would be the eighth municipality in Rhode Island with a ban on plastic checkout bags, but the first with a mandatory fee on bags offered by the retailer. The fee is an incentive to help shoppers adopt the practice of using reusable bag, according to supporters.