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


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

Phil Ammann is a Tampa Bay-area journalist, editor and writer. With more than three decades of writing, editing, reporting and management experience, Phil produced content for both print and online, in addition to founding several specialty websites, including His broad range includes covering news, local government, entertainment reviews, marketing and an advice column. Phil has served as editor and production manager for Extensive Enterprises Media since 2013 and lives in Tampa with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul. He can be reached on Twitter @PhilAmmann or at [email protected].

One comment

  • Kendra

    May 8, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Your characterization of ALEC – particularly as it being “well regarded,” or interested in notions of federalism or local control – belies one of two things (or perhaps a combination of both): 1.) a deep, unabashed ignorance of what ALEC does and has done for decades now, along with the controversy it has courted particularly in the past several years for some of the “model legislation” it has proposed in various states; and/or 2.) deliberate misinformation to the reader about ALEC’s work, purpose, and goal.

    ALEC has been behind some of the most devastating legislation for many years: pro-oil and gas, against women’s health and reproductive rights, and, in particular, its legislation intended to fill private prisons (such as those run by CCA, which was, until just a few years ago, one of the largest corporate donors to ALEC) like Truth in Sentencing, Three Strikes, and mandatory minimums. ALEC has, at every turn, been concerned with getting such legislation passed at a state level with the express purpose of having the laws challenged in court and – if all goes well for them – deemed constitutional or acceptable, such that the laws can then be implemented across the country. ALEC is fundamentally an arm of the Republican party, in many states the sole entity that is writing legislation produced at the state houses, and takes money from corporate donors in exchange for writing legislation that will benefit the bottom line of those companies.

    And that is what is so fundamentally galling about your piece: ALEC is not concerned with “federalism,” which term is sublime obfuscation and subterfuge. ALEC is concerned with aiding corporate interests by influencing legislation pertaining to those interests that pay ALEC for its services.

    Your slobbering, laudatory praise of ALEC (I don’t so much care about your disdain for Surfrider) is shocking in its falsity and dubiousness. I’ve read several other pieces written by you that make me question the soundness of your critical thinking skills, and this one clinches it: you can’t and you don’t engage in rational or reasoned argument. You’re a mindless shill.

    Shame on you, Mr. Ammann. Shame on you.

    I will close by noting that your claim that Surfrider is acting “opportunistically,” partnered with your praise for ALEC, would be amusing if it weren’t so troubling and duplicitous. The implication is that ALEC DOESN’T act opportunistically. What complete rubbish. What utter garbage. This entire article is nauseating.

Comments are closed.


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