A state appellate panel dealt a setback today to Manhattan Beach and to other cities that have sought to ban plastic bags, ruling that the city should have done an environmental impact report before imposing its bag ban in 2008.

In this case, the plastics industry — under the name of The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition — successfully used the California Environmental Quality Act to defeat an environmental regulation. As one commentator put it, it is an example of the legal doctrine of “karma's a bitch.”

“CEQA was put in place to help environmental quality,” says Kirsten James, water quality director of Heal the Bay. “This policy is going to help us improve our environment, and yet our opponents are using CEQA to take us backward.”

But Stephen Joseph, legal counsel to The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, argues that a plastic bag ban only encourages the use of paper bags, which generate two to three times as much carbon emissions as plastics do.

“This subject has been bedeviled by myths and exaggerations by environmental groups and city councils and their staffs, and it's time for it to stop,” Joseph says. “In an EIR whatever is said has to be backed by facts. This is a really good thing for the environmental movement and everyone else.”

Today's appellate ruling sets a statewide precedent. L.A. County is now drafting an EIR for a plastic-bag ordinance, and other cities like San Jose and Palo Alto are also doing EIRs.

H/t: South Bay Crime & Courts blog.

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