On June 22, the Texas Supreme Court decided an important environmental case, City of Laredo, TX v. Laredo Merchants Assoc. Without dissent, the Court held that the City of Laredo’s 2014 ordinance, enacted to create a “trash-free” city, was preempted by the Texas Health & Safety Code and, in particular, Section 361.0961(a)(1)). The “local antilitter ordinance prohibit[s] merchants from providing ‘single use’ plastic and paper bags to customers for point-of-sale purchases.”

The Court notes that the Texas Constitution provides that city ordinances cannot conflict with state law, and the Laredo plastic bag ordinance unquestionably conflicts with state law. The Health & Safety Code includes in its provisions the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act, which the Court describes as expressing the state’s interest in “controlling the management of solid waste by prohibiting, if necessary, local ordinances that prohibit or restrict for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.” Since the State Legislature has not acted in this particular area, the Court confirmed that neither can the City of Laredo.

The Court acknowledges that the matter of preemption of local ordinances is a persistent controversy in Texas:

“The roving, rolling debate over local control of public affairs has not, with increased age, lost any of its vigor. From public education, to immigration policy, to fracking, to shopping bags, the sides are deeply divided. Judges have no dog in this fight. Our duty is to apply the rules fairly and equally to both sides.”

The case was remanded to the trial court to consider the Merchants’ claims for attorney fees and costs.