One of our jobs at CLCV is to make sure that you have a voice in Sacramento. This applies to our work to pass legislation addressing issues that range from protecting our air quality to improving access to safe water to safeguarding the public from exposure to toxic chemicals. There are numerous commonsense bills that are introduced every year in the legislature that deal with those issues and more that end up with a barrage of opposition claiming that the bills will do more damage than good.
One such bill is Senate Bill 568 (Lowenthal) which would phase out Styrofoam take-out containers. Now, if you’re like me, you might be thinking, “Really? Phasing out toxic containers that litter our neighborhoods and waterways is bad?” Yet, the future of SB 568 is unknown as advocates work to round up enough support to pass the bill off of the Assembly floor this week.
A number of Democrats in the Assembly have stated that they won’t support the bill because they don’t want to jeopardize jobs. This has become a common problem for environmental and public health bills in Sacramento – they land on the “Job Killer” list put out by the Chamber of Commerce.
Killing Styrofoam kills jobs? Let’s see if this is true.
There are only about 1,000 Styrofoam manufacturing jobs in California, and out of those, perhaps about 40 percent are related to the production of take-out containers. If you do the math, you'll see that at most about 400 jobs in producing Styrofoam take-out containers are at risk in California. On the other hand, the state already has about 2,000 jobs in manufacturing non-Styrofoam containers and that number will only increase with the passage of SB 568. Moreover, a number of these jobs are at the same companies that produce the Styrofoam, meaning that they shouldn’t have to lay off workers, but instead can switch them to the production of the alternative containers.
The argument that restaurants will carry an extra financial burden using less toxic containers is also flimsy. Over 50 municipalities in California have already banned Styrofoam take-out containers and none of the restaurants have claimed economic hardship as a result. Findings also show that the cost difference between Styrofoam and non-Styrofoam is negligible, and in some cases, the alternatives are cheaper.
So, who else is behind the attack on SB 568?
You can now look up those who registered to lobby on a bill using a database hosted by California Watch. Records show that the American Chemistry Council spent over $154,000 in the first six months of 2011 on lobbying efforts to kill SB 568, along with 4 other toxic chemical bills including AB 1319 – the ban on BPA in children’s feeding containers. Thanks to an area on the lobbying registration form where lobbyists must disclose campaign contributions, I also learned that the American Chemistry Council contributed $1,500 each to the re-election campaigns for Senator Ed Hernandez – D, and Senator Tony Strickland – R. Guess who didn’t support SB 568 on the Senate floor?
Next time you hear about problems with an environmental or public health bill, especially if the claim has to do with economic impacts, take a moment to see who’s behind the claims. More often than not, you’ll see the argument begin to fall apart once the facts materialize.