Bag Ban Troubles

By Janellie Berlanga

Laredo’s only environmental advocacy group is facing legal apprehension in regards to their efforts of keeping Laredo bag free. Over twenty years ago the Rio Grande International Study Center, also known as RGISC, started an organization that advocates for clean water. Specifically, they pay close attention to the Rio Grande where Laredo gets a majority of its drinking water.

With the assistance of other environmental organizations and entities from other states both in Texas and Mexico the organization was able to gain traction in its fight for a clean Rio Grande.
RGISC began its efforts to make Laredo beautiful in 2012 through its fight for the plastic bag ban ordinance. It was finally enacted in 2014 and with almost two years underway Laredoans were able to see a big difference in the amount of waste on the streets.

Not long after, the Laredo Merchants Association sued the city and even hired a lobbyist from Washington in order to help their case, but the court sided with the organization and the ordinance was passed after all.

However, an appeal was made in May of 2015 due to the merchants of Laredo allegedly stating that it was unconstitutional and therefore the issue was brought to a statewide discussion with the help of local attorney Christopher C. Peterson.

In August of 2016 the ordinance hit a bump when the Fourth Court of Appeals of San Antonio, Texas stated the ban was unlawful and should not be enforced. Currently RGISC and the merchants of Laredo are waiting to see if the appeal will be taken to the Texas Supreme Court.

Tricia Cortez, the executive director of Rio Grande International Study Center, Laredo’s only environmental nonprofit organization, said that before the ban took affect their organization took a census of the amount of bags and found that there were “120 million bags in Laredo”.

She said that this organization “worked really hard with this ordinance” due to the fact that plastic bags “don’t biodegrade”. This group is mainly facing opposition from not only the Merchants of Laredo, but also big businesses in Austin who are trying to stop cities like Laredo from passing this ordinance.

Cortez says that the organization would have to take a “state legislative route” in order to “put the pressure on with awareness”. RGISC spreads awareness on these environmental situations by conducting surveys and holding events such as Earth Day Festival and the Rio Research Roundup that are often held in Summer and Spring.

Through these events they not only gather data on the amount of plastic bags in the river and other areas of Laredo, but they spread this information to those that attend events such as the Earth Day festival.

Cortez says that the benefits seen throughout Laredo after this ordinance was passed are evident. The benefits are “cleaner environment” as well as “helping wildlife”. An added bonus is that “less tax payer money [is] spent” on things such as the city of Laredo having to clean up the waste.

Back in November of 2016 the City of Laredo filed a petition that asked the Texas Supreme Court to review the appeal made to the plastic bag ban. Dale Wrainwright, who he himself has served on the Texas Supreme Court, will be the attorney representing the city of Laredo in this long process.


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