To be meaningful and effective, government regulation should address a real and demonstrable problem in a way that balances the cost and inconvenience it might impose with the severity of the issue. The bag fee enacted by the Durango City Council fails that test. It is a largely symbolic gesture that will nonetheless be a constant and ongoing reminder of legislative meddling in people’s day-to-day lives. And with that, it could easily spawn a backlash against more thoughtful regulations or the city itself.
For one thing, the bag fee comes off as an unwarranted compromise. After all, if plastic bags are the environmental catastrophe proponents insist they are, would not banning them outright be the responsible thing to do? Should not government at all levels take up that cause? That would be clear and at least convey the sense of urgency supports of the fee seem to feel.
Then again, if the City Council wants to promote Durango as an environmentally conscious community and raise awareness of the importance of always acting in an ecologically sustainable manner, why not do just that? The city could promote the use of reusable bags by printing up and passing out bags. Include various images of a skier, a bicyclist, a hunter, a kayaker and the train along with the phone number of the Durango Area Tourism Office, and the bags could do double duty as reusable grocery bags and promotions for Durango.
Or, perhaps, the City Council could ask DATO to enlist private businesses to back the effort. Either way, handing out reusable bags, as several local eateries do, makes the effort positive instead of punitive. Rather than resenting the fee, residents could take pride in pitching in.
The bag fee has none of those virtues, but more closely resembles a medieval indulgence. It suggests that using disposable bags is a sin, but nothing so serious that shoppers cannot buy their way out of it for a dime.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the bag fee is choosing the fee itself. While only pennies, by taking that approach, the council has reinforced the notion that all city government really cares about is money. And with that, the bag fee would also put more cash in the pockets of national chains that do not need our help.
Turning down the bag fee is also a convenient way of letting the city councilors know they were not elected to take symbolic stances on global issues. With as much attention as the city’s infrastructure needs, there is plenty to work on right here.
The bag fee is a negative response in what should be a positive effort and intrusive without being correspondingly effective. It should be repealed.
Credit goes to City Attorney David Smith for the fact that on the bag fee question the ballot is refreshingly clear. Instead of an apparent double negative where a “yes” vote expresses opposition to the existing law and a “no” vote is to support it, the question on the bag fee asks voters to choose “For the ordinance (opposed to repeal)” or “Against the ordinance (in favor of repeal.) That is easy to understand and as such helpful to voters.