At his annual constituents’ breakfast on Saturday, 1st District Councilman James Kraft touted proposed legislation for a plastic bag fee and a ban on polystyrene containers as ways to move toward a cleaner harbor.
At the breakfast, held at Eichenkranz restaurant, Kraft told constituents that Baltimore is again in danger of being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency, which could result in higher water bills.
“One of the biggest things you can help with now is cleaning up,” said Kraft, asking residents to pick up garbage and debris around the outside of their homes, which would otherwise wash into storm drains and ultimately end up in the harbor.
Kraft said that the state’s General Assembly had recently mandated that every major county and Baltimore City had to create a special fund to deal with stormwater and runoff issues.
He said that in this year’s November elections, residents will be asked to decide on an amendment to the City Charter. The gist of the “very technical” amendment, Kraft said, is to give the City Council the authority to create a new tax, or “stormwater fee.”
The councilman noted that a plastic-bag-reduction law, which requires stores to ask customers before providing plastic bags, is already in place. He said that the law is not always followed.
Per the proposed law, customers would pay for the plastic bags they use at a store. If they reuse their own shopping bags, they do not pay the fee.
Separate from the bag fee, a proposed ban on polystyrene containers would lead to a cleaner harbor, Kraft said.
“Eighty-five to 90 percent of harbor trash is Styrofoam, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans,” he said. “If people can’t get (polystyrene), they can’t throw it.”
There was an unsuccessful attempt to ban polystyrene containers in the city in 2008.
Kraft cited broken air-conditioning at Holabird Elementary School and a faulty elevator at Patterson High School as reasons for the city’s bottle-tax increase, from 2 cents to 5 cents per bottle.
At the Holabird graduation, students sweated in the gymnasium in “110-degree heat,” he said.
At Patterson, “they were carrying kids up and down the stairs,” Kraft said.
The bottle tax, Kraft said, came after an amendment passed to authorize the city to create funds for school construction, repair, and renovation. Following that, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she would create the fund, and the first money to go in it would be revenue from the increased bottle tax. The bottle tax was proposed, approved by voters, and passed the City Council 11-4.
The bottle tax increase takes effect in July 2013.
by Erik Zygmont