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Lawsuit Challenges San Francisco Plastic Bag Ban

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - San Francisco's ban on plastic bags is being challenged in court on the grounds that the city needed to examine the environmental impacts of imposing such a ban, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The city's Board of Supervisors voted in February to expand a law passed by the board in 2007 banning supermarkets and chain store pharmacies from providing single-use, non-compostable plastic bags.

The changes to the ordinance approved last month, made after several delayed votes because of concerns over inadequate outreach to local businesses, extended it to all retail establishments starting this October and restaurants in 2013.

The original ordinance aimed to reduce the number of plastic bags used in the city annually, which was estimated to be 180 million bags in 2007. That estimate jumped to 350 million bags as of 2011.

The San Francisco ordinance includes a 10-cent fee for each paper bag used that would be kept by individual businesses to be used as they see fit.

The goal was to lower the cost of compost-friendly plastic bags by increasing demand and to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable shopping bags.

However, the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition, which was formed in 2008 and claims that the anti-plastic bag campaign is "largely based on myths misinformation and exaggerations," filed the lawsuit Wednesday with the argument that the city must follow the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act before instituting the ban.

The group sites a report that found that plastic bags used less energy, fossil fuels and fresh water compared to their paper or compostable counterparts.

"Paper and compostable bags are significantly worse for the environment than plastic bags," the lawsuit states.

San Francisco is not the first local government sued by the coalition. In a similar suit the group filed against the city of Manhattan Beach, the state Supreme Court ruled in July 2011 that an environmental impact report must be prepared in connection with a proposed plastic bag ban in cities and counties larger than that Southern California municipality.

According to the lawsuit, before that ruling was issued, Los Angeles County completed an environmental impact report (EIR) in advance of its banning plastic and compostable bags in 2011.

That countywide ban took effect last year after the EIR found that charging a nominal fee for issuing paper bags would likely fail to offset environment impacts associated with their increased use.

The coalition argues the EIR is necessary because of what it claims are negative environmental impacts and because it says the city was not exempt from the CEQA requirements.

"Very few people will carry a reusable bag to Macy's or other department stores to save a dime," the lawsuit read. "Very few people will carry a large reusable bag to purchase ... a snack from Union Square or Chinatown."

Even President Obama is guilty of such an offense. On his most recent visit to San Francisco, Obama made a surprise stop in Chinatown, where he was photographed toting a large order of dim sum in the ubiquitous plastic carryout bags.

A spokesman for the city attorney's office was not immediately available for comment.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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