Supreme Court Heard Oral Argument in Save the Plastic Bag Case

On May 4, 2011, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. City of Manhattan Beach. Because of a recent departure of the City’s attorney, amicus curiae Californians Against Waste, represented by Jim Moose of Remy, Thomas, Moose, and Manley, argued the substantive CEQA arguments for the City.

In 2008, the City of Manhattan Beach passed an ordinance banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags and was subsequently sued by the Save the Plastic Bag, a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors. The trial and appellate courts had held that life-cycle studies of plastic and paper bags, submitted by Save the Plastic Bag, constituted substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that the City’s action may have significant impacts, which is the legal trigger for an EIR.

Californians Against Waste argued that this evidence, mostly generated by the plastic industry itself, conflicted with similar studies provided by the paper bag industry. Moreover, the evidence that the manufacture of paper bags is associated with greater energy impacts than plastic bags, even if accepted on its face, does not constitute evidence that the City’s project may have significant impacts. There was no causal connection between that generic information and the City’s narrowly tailored ordinance.

The Court seemed intrigued as well about the other issue of the case: whether Save the Plastic Bag even had standing. “Standing is the number one issue before we get to CEQA,” said Justice Joyce Kennard. Christian Marsh, representing amici California League of Cities and California State Association of Counties as well as the City of Manhattan Beach, argued that there was no standing in this case.

A decision is expected within 90 days.