State College

With plastic bag bans blocked in Pennsylvania, what’s next for Ferguson Township?

With their hands tied by recent legislation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, Ferguson Township supervisors voted Monday night to postpone all work on a potential fee for single-use plastic bags.

A proposed ordinance draft for a 10-cent fee on plastic bags was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, but changed course after Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Friday barring municipalities from implementing such fees. The legislation prohibits municipal bans or taxes on plastic bags or packaging for one year while legislative agencies study the economic and environmental impact.

The budget-related bill had support from Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, who said Monday that he wasn’t sure if Ferguson Township even has the authority to implement such a fee.

Although several Ferguson Township residents have expressed a desire for the fee, Corman said he is also responsible for representing Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer located in Milesburg. Corman said he has toured Hilex Poly’s facilities and said the company is doing work to improve its carbon footprint while producing plastic bags. Additional fees or bans on plastic might not be the best ways to promote sustainable behaviors, Corman said.

Through the one-year study, Corman said environmental and economic research will be conducted to evaluate the impact of single-use plastic.

“It allows us all to make a more informed decision,” Corman said.

Ferguson Township Supervisor Steve Miller supported the draft ordinance, and said he doesn’t think the state’s legislation should have been attached to a budget. He also said that while the state has every right to implement legislation, this was a time where individual municipalities should have been able to decide whether or not to implement a single-use plastic fee.

“I felt that it’s a local issue ... and I think that the state preemption is not really in the spirit of local government which Pennsylvania really espouses,” Miller said.

Ferguson Township resident Pam Steckler, who circulated a petition in support of the fee last year, said this was a setback for Ferguson Township and its efforts to become more sustainable.

“This is deeply saddening,” Steckler said. “Jake Corman admittedly came up with this stall to protect a single company.”

While the timeline has changed, the supervisors said they are grateful to have a working draft and said they hope businesses and community members will encourage sustainable behaviors as research at the state level continues.

The research is scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2020, but Corman said it could end earlier. Once data is collected and examined, local municipalities will reconvene and decide where to go next.

After working to have a draft ready by July, Ferguson Township Manager David Pribulka said the township will continue to “roll with the punches” and continue its work under the current legislation.

“It’s always disappointing to be preempted by the state or the federal government when you’re working toward something, but it’s not uncommon either,” Pribulka said. “It’s something we’ve come to expect.”

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.