Coral Gables

Coral Gables pushes state to allow cities to ban single-use plastics and Styrofoam

Coral Gables is fighting back on a ruling that struck down both its Styrofoam and plastic bag ban two weeks ago.

At its Tuesday commission meeting, the city commission voted unanimously to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court a lower court’s decision preventing the city from banning single-use plastics and Styrofoam.

“This is what most of our residents want,” Commissioner Michael Mena said.

Coral Gables isn’t just pushing back for the sake of its own legislation. Also on Tuesday, the commission passed a resolution asking the state to repeal state preemptions preventing local regulation of plastics and Styrofoam, which would allow cities across Florida to ban the materials.

The preemptions are the basis for the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s Aug. 14 decision in favor of the Florida Retail Federation, which sued Coral Gables over its bans. The Retail Federation represents Publix, Walmart, Target and other retailers.

The Federation’s representatives have said the organization’s prefers to “have a comprehensive statewide discussion” on the regulation of plastics, rather than a “patchwork” of local regulation that is “confusing to consumers and difficult for retailers,” spokesman James Miller said.

But the state has failed to enact legislation to regulate plastics since the Legislature passed the preemption law in 2008, even though it has been a hot-button issue among many cities and environmentalists in Florida. The plastic bags and Styrofoam wind up in landfills and bodies of water, where they take hundreds of years to decompose and can affect wildlife.

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The appellate court ruling against Coral Gables, along with letters from the Retail Federation threatening to sue, have scared several municipalities into rolling back their bans on single-use plastics.

But Coral Gables Vice Mayor Vince Lago said dozens of cities have contacted him to express their support for Coral Gables’ efforts to push back against the ruling, and are willing to submit amicus briefs supporting the city’s position if the Supreme Court chooses to hear their appeal.

Surfside Mayor Daniel Dietch said his town fully supports Coral Gables, and that Surfside will likely consider a similar resolution urging the state to reassess the preemption laws at the next commission meeting.

Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli said at the meeting that the preemptions are an “assault” on the “ability of people to be governed by those elected officials that are closest to them, rather than the people in Tallahassee that have nothing to do with us.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis previously vetoed a state preemption on regulation of plastic straws, writing in his veto letter that the state “should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process.”

City attorney Miriam Ramos pointed to the governor’s words to persuade commissioners they should vote to appeal the matter. The vote was 5-0.

“Exactly, Gov. DeSantis,” she said. “This should be our decision, not the state legislature’s.”

A spokeswoman for DeSantis said the governor “generally” feels that “issues such as this should be dealt with at the local level, but “if there was a bill that was presented” tackling the preemptions, “he would look at it and make a determination at that time.”

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