End in sight for PA's statewide preemption on local single-use plastic laws

PA budget doesn’t extend preemption on local single-use plastic bans
For Immediate Release

Harrisburg, PA - The Pennsylvania General Assembly approved the 2021-2022 state budget bills without including language to extend the statewide preemption on local ordinances related to single-use plastic bans and fees. 

In place since 2019, the statewide preemption has attempted to bar Pennsylvania cities and towns from implementing local policies to ban or place fees on single-use plastic items, such as plastic bags, straws or foam take-out containers. In the five-month budget deal negotiated in May of 2020, the General Assembly then extended the moratorium through July 1, 2021 or six months after Pennsylvania’s Covid-19 emergency order was lifted, whichever is longer. The combination of Pennsylvania voters' approval of the statewide ballot initiative to lift the Covid emergency order on the May 18th primary, followed by inaction by the General Assembly to include language to extend the preemption, means that the state’s municipalities can begin implementing and enforcing local plastic ordinances as early as December 8, 2021.  

This comes on the heels of the City of Philadelphia, the boroughs of West Chester and Narberth, and Lower Merion Township filing a lawsuit on March 3, 2021 asking Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court to declare the General Assembly’s plastics preemption violated the state’s constitution. PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council subsequently joined this lawsuit, along with the City of Pittsburgh.

PennEnvironment’s Clean Water & Conservation Advocate Stephanie Wein issued the following statement regarding the pending end to the statewide preemption on local plastic ordinances.

“From the moment the legislature first passed its statewide ban on local communities taking action to reduce plastic pollution, we knew that this policy was unpopular and unconstitutional. The end of this illegal preemption means that local Pennsylvania cities and towns can get back to passing policies that are proven to reduce plastic litter and pollution in our communities.

"The sad political reality is that the General Assembly would continue using this secretive and unconstitutional backroom process to ramrod through this controversial anti-environmental policy if local elected officials and environmental groups hadn't started taking the legal steps to rein in this abuse of power. We're proud that our efforts helped lead to the repeal of this harmful statewide policy.

“Local governments need to use all the tools in the toolbox to tackle the environmental threat by plastic pollution.  We can no longer allow something that we use for only a few minutes to pollute our environment and planet for hundreds of years. 

Municipalities must be empowered to address issues of plastic pollution when the state legislature won’t. Our local governments deal with the brunt of plastic pollution, which litters our streets, parks, and waterways, and threatens our wildlife. Cleanup costs for our roads, streets, and sewer systems cost taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars. We know Pennsylvania’s local leaders want to take on plastics pollution. If the legislature won’t tackle the plastics crisis, they should get out of the way.”

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