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Originally published January 6, 2012 at 5:02 PM | Page modified January 7, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Few, so far, sign on to get bag-ban repeal on ballot

With just 10 days left to gather the 16,000 signatures needed to place Seattle's plastic-bag ban before voters, opponents face a steep climb: 15,917 more.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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With just 10 days left to gather the 16,000 signatures needed to place Seattle's plastic-bag ban before voters, opponents face a steep climb: 15,856 more.

Craig Keller, who launched the petition drive in late December, said he's collected 144 so far.

"Time is our enemy," said Keller, a Republican activist who argues that plastic bags are convenient, cheap, widely reused and not the scourge of roadsides and marine life that backers suggest.

Keller stepped up the signature-gathering effort this week by paying to print and insert about 75,000 petitions into several newspapers, including Friday's Seattle Times and Thursday's West Seattle Herald and Ballard News.

Keller said the petition inserts cost about $9,000, half of which was his own money and the other half from donations. He said he was prepared to finance it all himself.

"I really am crazy," Keller said.

The American Progressive Alliance, formerly known as the Progressive Bag Affiliates, and both lobbying arms of the plastics industry, did call and inquire about contributing to a paid signature-gathering drive, Keller said.

But after getting an estimate of $100,000 for a two-week push with paid-signature gatherers, Keller said, the alliance told him it's concentrating its efforts on Olympia.

A spokeswoman for the alliance confirmed it's staying out of the signature-gathering effort to repeal the ban.

"We're focusing on addressing the issue at the state. In our experience, bans do not decrease litter," said Donna Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the American Progressive Alliance.

The Seattle City Council last month unanimously adopted a ban on plastic shopping bags at grocery, retail and convenience stores. The law also imposes a 5-cent fee on paper bags to offset the higher cost to stores and to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags. The ban is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The plastics industry played a key role in defeating a 2008 city ordinance that imposed a 20-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags. The American Chemistry Council, which represented the plastics industry, pumped $1.4 million into a signature-gathering effort and subsequent campaign to defeat the fee.

Keller charged that the City Council deliberately adopted the current ban during the holidays while people were distracted. The legislation was introduced Nov. 21. The ban was adopted Dec. 19.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien, the ban's main sponsor, said the issue was in newspapers, radio, television and blogs every week for a month. The council also received more than 1,000 emails and calls on the issue.

"There was a robust public process that went into passing the bag-ban ordinance," O'Brien said.

Keller said he is leaving petitions at independent grocery and retail stores around the city. The Washington Retail Association, which represents 2,800 stores across the state, sent a link to the petition in its monthly newsletter last week, said Jan Teague, president.

She said some of her members are struggling with how to adjust to the ban, particularly because there's such a range of bag sizes and weights used by retailers. Only thin-film plastic bags are banned.

"It's another case of Seattle not thinking through the impact of legislation on businesses," Teague said. "I hope (Keller) gets his signatures. It gets power back into the hands of the people."

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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