The California Supreme Court upheld the right of cities to ban plastic bags, ruling Thursday that a full-scale environmental review may not always be needed to prohibit stores from giving bags to their customers.

Environmentalists lauded the unanimous decision, calling it a victory for environmental protection. But a lawyer for plastic bag makers said the manufacturers would continue to sue municipalities that impose bans without environmental impact reports.

The ruling overturned two lower court decisions and upheld a 2008 plastic bag ban by Manhattan Beach. Since that ban, nearly a dozen other local governments, including Los Angeles County, have voted to prohibit plastic bags, and other cities are considering such prohibitions.

"This is a great day for the Pacific Ocean," said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, an environmental protection group. "Cities and counties can now move forward with plans to protect our environment — and to safeguard the significant portion of our economy that depends on a healthy ocean and beaches. "

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a group of plastic bag makers and distributors, which contended an environmental impact report was needed to impose bag bans.

Plastic bag bans have been approved by San Francisco, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica, Marin County, San Jose and Calabasas in addition to Manhattan Beach and Los Angeles County.

The cost of such litigation and full-scale environmental review has frightened some cities away from banning plastic bags. If Manhattan Beach had lost the case, the city would have had to pay the industry's legal fees, lawyers in the case said.

For more info on Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. City of Manhattan Beach, et al. Click here for the briefs and case information and here for a summary of the oral argument.

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