Blog : Preventing Cross-Contamination on the Seacoast

By John | Jun 15, 2015 | in

Josh Denton is a guest blogger who is very active in environmental causes in Portsmouth, as well as a member of the Green Alliance.

By Josh Denton

The education campaign surrounding the plastic bag ordinance successfully raised awareness of the collective harms from such single-use convenience items. Everyone shops, so attempting behavioral change led to a spirited debate, consumers reconsidering their shopping habits, and as a plastic bag alternative, Market Basket offering reused cardboard boxes.

The residents that worked since 2012 on this initiative are understandably disappointed City Councilors did not take positions and vote on their ordinance. The City Council’s letter of support to the State House delegation is welcomed, but going to the State House was always Plan B if Councilor Lown’s motion for a First Reading was voted down due to a desire for more specific enabling legislation. Not bringing that motion forward is a missed leadership opportunity and years may pass before the next legislative session enacts a more specific statute.

As an attorney, I understand why the City Attorney erred on the side of caution and agreed with the New Hampshire Municipal Association's position that Portsmouth "may have the authority," as opposed to McLane Law's position that Portsmouth has the authority, to enact the plastic bag ordinance under the solid waste statute. I do not understand how this City Council thinks it is worth risking $280,000 to fight lawsuits so the Pierce Island wastewater treatment plant can continue to pollute the Piscataqua River at its current levels, yet not believe this measure is a risk worth taking to protect our waterways.

The irony is not lost that the City Council avoided this controversial vote the same week Portsmouth was named a recipient of the Gulf of Maine Council’s 2015 Sustainable Communities Award. City staff are focused on sustainability, but large impact items like this ordinance must be approved by the City Council, and this proposal was the third of the five initiatives presented last November by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Sustainable Practices that the City Council has chosen not to act upon.

All politics are local. The environment, climate change, and America’s energy independence are not just big intangible ideas for only state, federal, and foreign governments to address. As individuals, communities, and as a city, we all have a stake in and consciously choose whether or not to take action towards a more sustainable future.

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