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Surfrider’s passion for ‘local control’ in ban the bag debate rings false, is opportunistic spin

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Local control, the notion that communities should have a certain degree of “home rule” in managing its own affairs, has become one of the hot-button issues in both Florida and across the country.

As part of the “ban the bag” movement, however, the rallying cry of “local control” is in danger of trivialization, made almost meaningless.

On one side are organizations like American Legislative Exchange Council and the American City and County Exchange — highly regarded sister groups that list Federalism and the 10th Amendment as core issues.

On the other side is the Surfrider Foundation.

Founded in San Clemente, California, Surfrider claims to be “dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches through a powerful activist network.” They seek to ban not only single-use plastic bags, but also polystyrene, balloons, plastic water bottles and even plastic drinking straws.

Also, Surfrider wants you to believe that in the debate over various plastic product bans and taxes, they are the ones to trust on matters of local control.

Forgive us for being more than a little skeptical.

In California, Surfrider championed a statewide bana measure forcing policy on hundreds of California communities that never sought out bag bans and taxes on their own.

At the time, local control was not in the Surfrider lexicon and nowhere to be found in campaign literature. And in California, Surfrider’s “local control” epiphany has yet to take root.

Only recently, Surfrider began incorporating such language like: “The ability for citizens and local government to address local pollution issues is critical. It is not only essential that we take action at the local level, but we must also protect our right to create change in our cities and communities …”

Surfrider activists apply these “local control” arguments as messages of convenience in southern states such as Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Regrettably, Surfrider’s disingenuous concept of home rule is gaining traction, as the group continues its extensive, dubious and mysteriously funded nationwide lobbying efforts.

In the debate over home rule, states’ rights and federalism, Surfrider has zero credibility. Yet in the process, they actively undermine other, more legitimate local control advocates such as ALEC and Americans for Tax Reform, each with lengthy track records of standing up for individual liberty and resistance to top-down government edicts.

These organizations — guided by principle — actively reject Surfrider’s spin used to justify product bans and consumer taxes in communities around the country.

When Surfrider calls for “local control,” it is not out of a sense of principle. They’re speaking opportunistically.

Don’t fall for it. The ends do not justify the means.

What Surfrider stands for, first and foremost, is banning products they don’t like — notably single-use plastic bags. They will leverage any argument, at any cost, to get their way.

A Surfrider blog post from CEO Chad Nelson says it best: The hypocrisy is thick.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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