Emails to legislators highlight anger over effort to overturn Park City bag ban
April 17, 2018
In the waning days of the 2018 Utah legislative session, a bill passed in the Senate that caused an uproar in Park City. The Container Regulation Act, which would have banned governments in Utah from enacting plastic grocery bag bans, came under fire before the House of Representatives eventually struck it down 58-14.
After a public records request, the Utah Legislature provided The Park Record with emails from constituents to Sen. David G. Buxton, R-Roy, who sponsored the bill, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who represents Park City in the Senate, and Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber, who represents Park City in the House. Quinn was the most vocal opponent of the bill in the House. In the end, none of the legislators representing Park City on Capitol Hill voted "yes" on the bill.
Park City is the sole municipality in Utah that bans plastic bags, and the dozens of emails highlight the intensity of the opposition to the bill among Parkites and others.
"Local government is one place where I feel my vote makes an impact and we made the decision to protect the environment despite other actions state leaders have made to destroy it," read one message from a resident imploring Quinn to oppose the legislation. "Please let our voices be heard, our lands protected a little more and ignore the flimsy arguments made in this bill."
Another concerned resident touched on the importance of allowing municipalities to govern themselves.
"Often times, we rely on our smallest units of government to LEAD the way," the resident said in a message to Quinn. "Small steps like Park City's ban on plastic bags are a wonderful example of municipal leadership, and that leadership should not be punished. "
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One person identifying themselves as a Republican sent Quinn a detailed list of reasons to oppose the bill, citing Buxton's comparisons to minimum wage policy and concern over the cost to consumers as "nonsensical.
"As a Republican and a small business owner (as is my wife), I urge you to allow local government to manage their own affairs," the person said.
Quinn's responses to many of the emails indicated that, while he didn't agree with the ban itself, he would fight for Park City's right to implement it.
"I am highly confident that the good people of Park City can raise the ~$9,000 to buy every low income household three canvas bags for groceries, if that's what it takes to defeat this bill," Quinn wrote in one response.
The Legislature provided only one message sent to Van Tassell.
"Please do not pass a law that doesn't make any sense," said a resident identifying themselves as a Parkite. "We should be using less plastic."
Others pointed their dissatisfaction with the bill at Buxton, its sponsor.
"Are you really that upset about Park City's ban on plastic bags, or just doing the bidding of your corporate sponsors?" Asked the same Republican who emailed Quinn. "when was the last time you or anyone from your staff was actually in Park City observing the effectiveness of the ban? Go away!"
In response, Buxton said he sponsored the bill because of his concerns about "patchwork policy" within the state.
"My reasoning behind this bill is to create uniform policy across the state, and not patchwork policy that is impossible for businesses to comply to, and furthermore places an undue burden on families," the senator said.
Buxton's bill seemingly went against Republican orthodoxy, which has traditionally emphasized the importance of local control over local issues.
"There are certain things that need to be regulated at the state and not the municipal level," Buxton said in the same conversation.
Another resident was concerned about the effect of plastic bags on the environment.
"…If we want to protect the nature of Zion from tourists letting their lunch bag fly off of Angels landing, big government in Salt Lake City should not be allowed to stop us," they said.
The bill also had detractors from outside the Park City area.
"As a resident of Ogden, I really need to ask you why you sponsored this bill," another message to Buxton read. "Folks live very nicely without plastic bags — go to Costco and look at the mobs of folks there, and Costco doesn't provide any bags at all."
According to the emails, Buxton did gain support from at least one Parkite, who said she uses the bags to pick up after her dog, and that plastic bags are more effective in Park City's snowy winters.
"I am a 41 year resident of Park City and support your effort to reverse Park City's ban on plastic bags at the three largest grocery stores in the area," the resident said. "I have refused to shop (at the Park City Fresh Market) — or in any other local city grocery store — which does not give out the plastic bags to customers. I reuse the bags to pick up dog poop several times a day. … If no bags, I am tempted to leave it where it lands."
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