Aug. 13 hearing to look at Barnegat Bay, plastic bags
Barnegat Bay and plastic bags will be the subject of a joint legislative hearing to be held in Lavallette on Aug. 13.
The topics are expected to draw a wide range of business representatives, who plan to highlight efforts to increase recycling and reuse of shopping bags. The meeting will include the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.
Senate Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) is organizing the joint hearing, as he has each summer in recent years.
Smith said he plans to revisit new versions of bills intended to improve the water quality of Barnegat Bay, including bills previously vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.
"The governor's got to understand that what they're doing right now is a lot of lip service" as the bay continues to worsen, Smith said. He said the state should revisit the issue of total maximum daily loads of runoff allowed into the bay. As to the chances of Christie revisiting his position on the bay, "hope springs eternal," Smith said.
The business community has largely been united in opposition to government regulation of plastic bags. It has instead focused on voluntary programs to increase reusable bags and recycling.
Smith has sponsored one of several bills that would regulate bags. "They last forever and there is a question as to whether we should be providing a legal framework to either eliminate their use or to regulate their use," he said.
Smith said he wants to examine how the bags affect sea life and the environment. Smith added it has been three years since business representatives said they would increase recycling, and he is interested in how the effort is proceeding.
"I have an open mind on all issues related to the issue of plastic bags, and I think we need to hear from the public and from the experts as to what we should be doing or not," Smith said.
Businesses have improved recycling as part of their focus on sustainability, according to Sara Bluhm, vice president of environment, energy and federal affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
"I think that the business community has done a great job of recycling and encouraging recycling," she said.
New Jersey Retail Merchants Association President John Holub also said retailers have been active.
"We definitely welcome the opportunity to describe all of the excellent initiatives and programs that have been put in place without any government intervention," Holub said.
Holub said his association is concerned with all of the different bills that have been introduced affecting plastic bags, such as requiring customers to pay fees for bags or mandating what bags retailers must offer.
Holub said businesses are responding to market demand for increased recycling.
"Retailers are responding to the consumers and the consumers have become a lot more attuned to these issues," he said.
The meeting will be on Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. at the Lavallette First Aid Squad at Bay Boulevard and Washington Avenue, in Lavallette.