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April 7, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Environmentalists organized by the Texas Campaign for the Environment converge on the state Capitol today, trying to focus attention on the need to reduce disposable bags in the waste stream. "Plastic Bag Monsters" will also be roaming the grounds. Here's a preview of what those "monsters" will be saying.

"We want to be free! To lie in the barbed-wire fences. And hang from the trees. Free the Bag Monsters!"

As some Texas communities move to ban single-use bags outright, lawmakers are considering bills that would force large retail stores to install readily accessible recycling stations for customers. It's a move endorsed by both retailer organizations and bag manufacturers - but not by environmentalists, who contend such canisters are already commonplace. They warn of a provision in the legislation that could prevent local governments from passing stricter laws, such as bag bans, on their own.

Three Texas communities have already banned the bags, including Fort Stockton in Pecos County, whose mayor pro tem says the proposed legislation amounts to a "Trojan horse" hiding big-business interests. Darren Hodges says the issue is local control for towns trying to clean up their fields and highways.

"If the citizens and the stores in Fort Stockton come up with a solution, we don't want the state coming in and superseding our rights to make up solutions to our problems."

Some legislators have proposed grandfathering localities like Fort Stockton - allowing their stricter laws to remain in place - but, so far, the bills as written would prevent new bag bans. The Senate bill's sponsor, Republican Troy Fraser, says the measure is intended as a transition toward eventual elimination of the non-reusable bags.

Environmentalists - like those speaking out in Austin today - say they will not support the plan as long as it includes the restrictive language.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX