Brownsville, Texas Gives Up Plastic Bag Fee

Published June 7, 2017

A legal action in Texas dealt a blow to local ordinances restricting the use of plastic grocery bags.

As part of a settlement agreement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton dropped on April 11 the state’s lawsuit against the City of Brownsville over its first-in-the-state ordinance imposing a $1-per-transaction fee on plastic bags offered at stores. The ordinance was approved in 2010.

Paxton sued Brownsville, arguing its plastic-bag fee violated a state law declaring cities cannot “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package.” Plastic bags are viewed as containers under Texas law.

“I’m pleased the city of Brownsville agreed to stop taxing its citizens through an unlawful bag fee,” Paxton said in a statement. “Cities and municipalities in Texas are obligated to follow the rule of law.”

Other Cities Followed Suit

About a dozen Texas cities have enacted restrictions or taxes on plastic bags. In the first such case to go to court, Texas’ Fourth Court of Appeals threw out Laredo’s ban on plastic bags on August 17, 2016. The court sided with the Laredo Merchants Association, which had sued to overturn the city’s ban, arguing state law preempted it.

Pam Villarreal, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, says there are good reasons to oppose plastic-bag restrictions.

“Plastic-bag bans are falling out of favor all over Texas, and it’s easy to see why,” said Villarreal. “Evidence shows they don’t benefit the environment, but they certainly burden lower-income shoppers. 

“A dollar-per-transaction tax in Brownsville may not seem like much to wealthy urbanites, but it harms seniors on fixed incomes and low-income parents trying to make ends meet,” Villarreal said.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.