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Commentary Energy & Environment

Opinion: Retailers line their pockets with taxpayer dollars in Anne Arundel County

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By John Astle and Sid Saab

The writers formerly represented Anne Arundel County in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, respectively. 

At a time when prices remain sky-high and local families are scrounging to make ends meet, we should all come together in a sense of common good to deliver relief. Instead, the Anne Arundel County Council took the bait, raising costs on struggling residents in the name of green policy that lines retailers’ pockets. The recently passed ban on plastic retail bags also creates a new tax on paper bags, the latest in a curious trend of Maryland’s retailers linking arms with the activists at the Sierra Club.

That’s right. Each time a shopper buys a paper bag at the checkout counter, the retailer will pocket the fee. Not a single cent of the new charge forced on shoppers is required to address climate change, support recycling, or promote sustainability. Instead, the retailers will be able to pad their bottom lines.

Stunningly, the state association representing these businesses not only publicly supported the Anne Arundel ban, but also actually advocated here and elsewhere that the bag taxes — which they pocket — should be charged on everyone, including struggling families relying on government assistance such as SNAP or WIC to put food on the table. It is difficult to view this as anything other than abject greed.

Research on bag fees shows that it is these same families that are more likely to pay bag fees when they are implemented. Instead of using these dollars to clean up our community or protect Maryland’s natural resources, the poorest families are going to be the retailers’ newest profit center. This is hardly a policy in line with the progressive values of those who pushed the bag ban.

Nothing in state law or Anne Arundel prohibits retailers from stopping offering plastic bags or charging for alternative options. One of the association’s members already publicly committed to doing so — without any government prodding.

While the retailers may look greedy, it’s the council that should feel foolish. Anne Arundel’s elected officials took the bait, providing political cover for what can be best described as a cash grab that will do nothing to improve our community.

As elected officials, we understand the pressures the council faced. A large business group and an environmental organization show up asking for new regulations and say they agree on a new policy that will “help the planet,” seems like an easy win. But voters trust elected officials to investigate the data and weigh the facts, not just serve as a rubber stamp when special interests swear it’s good for planet.

Promoting sustainability means advancing sustainable policies. Taxing our poorest families and giving the money to grocers isn’t sustainability, it’s just greed.


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Opinion: Retailers line their pockets with taxpayer dollars in Anne Arundel County