Wednesday December 12, 2012

Save the planet: The days of plastic bags are over

Editor of the Reformer:

Vermonters have a well-deserved reputation for going green on most issues, but on a recent trip to San Jose, Calif., I was reminded that we may not be nearly as progressive as that city as well as San Francisco and a growing number of other cities across the country that have enacted laws that ban the use of plastic bags in supermarkets and other retail stores.

A city ordinance in San Jose went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, that prohibits retail stores from providing plastic carryout bags at checkout. Stores can still provide paper bags made of recycled material and charge a minimum of 10 cents for each bag, but residents there are quickly responding. San Francisco, in fact, became the first city in the country to ban plastic bags in 2007. Moreover, a host of countries have bans on plastic bags including Bangladesh and Rwanda. Israel, Canada, Taiwan , Singapore and South Africa have banned them or are moving to banning them. China banned free plastic bags and thus reduced oil consumption by 37 million barrels a year. Ireland taxed plastic bags and reduced its oil consumption by 90 percent.

So where does Vermont stand? Back in April of this year, the Senate tabled the discussion in order to study the issue further.

According to the World Wildlife Fund Report (2005), plastic bags account for over 10 percent of the debris that washes up on U.S. coastlines.


Advertisement

The report notes that plastic bags photodegrade, breaking down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers that contaminate soils and waterways and that can eventually enter the food chain. The report claims that over 200 species of wildlife, including whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles, are killed each year when they mistake plastic bags for food sources. The British Antarctic Survey reports that plastic bags are seen floating north of the Arctic Circle and as far south as the Falkland Islands. These facts are not surprising when one considers that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed each year. However, if only one out of five people in the United States used cloth bags instead of plastic, we would save 1,330,560,000,000 bags in our lifetime.

No state has yet banned the use of plastic bags, but a number of them, including California, Illinois, New York, Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington, D.C., have enacted some sort of legislation. It is time the Vermont Senate joined them.

And what about Brattleboro? It could only help the cause if Brattleboro were to take the lead in Vermont by passing an ordinance banning plastic bags in all retail stores. Sure, the simple thing to do would be to wait and see what lawmakers decide, but Brattleboro could show its progressive roots and make an important statement to the Senate by banning plastic bags even before a statewide decision is reached. Like smoking bans, I believe it is an inevitable step in our social and economic evolution.

Tim Maciel,

Brattleboro, Nov. 26

NEC’s hard work
should be appreciated

Editor of the Reformer:

Sunday night (Dec. 2), looking around the modest, old room on the seventh floor of the Hooker Dunham Building, new home of the 40 year old New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, I was overwhelmed by what I heard, by what I saw.

While I’ve been an admirer and supporter of the NEC for years, I had never actually met the folks whose intelligence, selfless hard work and dedication has time and again kept the NRC, Entergy and Vermont Yankee from ignoring scientific evidence and running rough-shod over concerns of the state and local community: continued operation of a reactor designed in the ‘50s whose vulnerabilities, already evident and dramatically underscored by the disaster at Fukushima, was just too dangerous.

That night we heard how in testimony the previous Thursday, the Vermont Public Service Board -- the agency which has final statutory responsibility for approving the re-licensing of Vermont Yankee -- had endorsed the position of NEC attorneys Shadis and Margolis. In effect, the board said that Entergy, despite obtaining re-licensing for an additional 20 years, had also been required to obtain new permits to operate and produce highly radioactive fuel from the state after March 21, 2012 when their original operating license ended. However, the PSB, I learned, has no enforcement power of its own. But, attorneys Shadis and Margolis must now prepare another brief which responds to this 30 page PSB ruling and either asks the board to move forward to shut Yankee down or petitions the State Supreme Court directly.

As you can see, the amount of work is daunting, the need for funding urgent, and the realization that many or most of the regulatory agencies created to protect citizen’s interests are totally compromised by their industry associations. Nevertheless, after 40 years there is a sense now that a confluence of factors, not the least of which is the questionable economic viability of an old, increasingly expensive plant at a time of stable or falling electric rates (which recently led Virginia based Dominion Resources to decide to retire Wisconsin’s Kewaunee Power Station), may be reaching a tipping point.

I hope all of us here in Brattleboro and the surrounding communities take pride in the work this grassroots group continues to do to protect our vital interests and that we do whatever we can to help them help us.

Norton Garber,

Westminster West, Dec. 5

More on VY protesters

Editor of the Reformer:

If a dozen Japanese women had chained themselves to the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant in 2010, prior to the reactor meltdown caused by an emergency power system failure, would the Reformer have lectured the world ("Respect for our legal system," Nov. 29 editorial) about their lack of respect for the legal system and the public costs they incurred in being arrested and tried? Why kill the messengers?

Pat Hynes,

Montague, Mass., Dec. 7

Kudos to Bouboulis

Editor of the Reformer:

I really want to express my appreciation for Selectboard member Dora Bouboulis.

Dora has been a courageous voice, insisting that real issues with important consequence, which people bring before the Board, not be brushed off with no more discussion than a patronizing, "thank you for your comment."

Thank you Dora.

Steven K-Brooks,

Brattleboro, Dec. 9