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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection Consumer Affairs an Culture chaired by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday and voted to hold in committee Bill No. 32-0220 to extend the ban on plastic bags to include disposable drinking straws and to allow the sale of reusable drinking straws.

“Banning plastic straws is not the only way to save the environment. However, it is a step forward. Our quality of life is related to how we manage our waste. I have engaged in numerous beach clean-ups, and the plastic straws are the hardest to clean up,” said Sen. Janelle Sarauw, Sponsor of the bill. “We have to educate the community on the long-term effects that plastic straws have on the environment.”

According to the study of National Park Service and Clemson University collaborated with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to collect and analyze beach sediments and found that the V.I. National Park had the highest rate of microplastics; totaling 444 pieces of microplastics per kg of sand.

“Can you expound on microplastics?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. In response, Kitty Edwards, Education & Outreach Coordinator for the Coastal Zone Management Division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) said, “As plastics spend time outside they slowly break-up into smaller pieces called microplastics that marine life can mistake for food; sometimes with fatal results.”

Sen. Tregenza Roach inquired about alternatives to plastic straws. Harith Wickerman, President of Island Green Living Association, stated that compostable straws or paper straws made with the environmentally friendly material, reusable straws made of metal, glass or bamboo and Lolistraw which is an edible drinking straw made from seaweed.

“How will businesses absorb the cost of using alternative straws?” asked Sen. Janette Millin Young? Edwards stated that the upside to this measure is that straw replacements are not a necessity. Straws are a luxury item. Businesses do not have to replace them. Sen. Sanes stated that for some people with medical challenges may need to drink out of a straw.

Lawmakers stated that amendments are necessary for this measure to ensure consumers are not adversely affected. Sen. Roach said, “Businesses may save money by not buying straws, but it can create a financial burden for consumers who will not see a change in the price of products and services. The consumer may have to pay for straw if they want one. This problem is similar to the plastic bag ban.” Co-Sponsor of the Bill Sen. Myron Jackson added that this is a concern because the intent of this bill is not supposed to become a financial burden to consumers.

Separately, senators also received testimony on Bill No. 32-0062 – An Act amending title 12 Virgin Islands Code, by adding a chapter 3A establishing the Community and Heritage Tree Law of the Virgin Islands.

“This legislation intends to maintain public trees, establish a Virgin Islands Tree Board, and pruning or removal of trees that are hazardous to the environment. It also provides a guide to have an urban forest in planting trees on the roadside,” said Sen. Jackson, Sponsor of the Bill.

Sean Krigger, Acting Director and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for the V.I. Historic Preservation Office of DPNR offered recommended changes to the measure. “The Department requests that clarification on what the assistance of enforcement to the Department of Agriculture under the provision of the bill or to remove Section 145 “Enforcement” subsection (b) which requires the Territorial Forester to request assistance from DPNR in the enforcement chapter.”

Similarly, Commissioner Carlos Robles of the V.I. Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) stated that amendments to the bill are necessary because DOA cannot sustain fiscal responsibility. “The bill as proposed places the responsibility for determining the funding amount on VIDOA and this is a challenge. We are willing to work with the Governor’s staff, the Office of Management and Budget, the Dept. of Finance and this body to accomplish this mandate.”

Senators present are Sammuel Sanes, Janelle Sarauw, Janette Millin Young, Myron Jackson, Tregenza Roach, and Marvin Blyden.  Photos:                                           ###