Booker, Huffman, Merkley, Lowenthal Introduce Legislation to Address Plastic Production Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-2nd), together with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47th), introduced the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act, legislation that addresses the plastic production crisis that is fueling climate change and perpetuating environmental injustice.

With plastic production and consumption on track to double in the next decade, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions threaten to put our climate goals further out of reach, while expanded plastic production will drive more pollution in environmental justice communities around the United States. Petrochemical, plastic production, and waste incineration facilities, which are disproportionately located in or near Black, Brown, and low-wealth communities, release harmful air and water pollution that cause increased incidences of asthma, cancers, endocrine disruption, development disorders, and heart disease. Transitioning off of fossil fuels only to replace that demand with more fossil-based plastic production is not a sustainable solution, and will continue to perpetuate existing climate and environmental justice impacts.

The Protecting Communities from Plastics Act would directly tackle the plastic pollution crisis by cracking down on the plastic production process, building on key provisions from the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act to address the harmful environmental justice impacts of this growing sector, and moving our economy away from an overreliance on single-use plastic. It establishes stricter rules for petrochemical plants to safeguard the health of American communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis. The bill would also begin to shift the U.S. economy away from its dependence on certain single-use plastics, creating new nationwide targets for plastic source reduction and reuse in the packaging and food service sectors. These targets are paired with federal incentives to spur expansion of reusable and refillable systems, with an emphasis on ensuring benefits are realized in environmental justice communities.

“As we transition to clean energy, fossil-based plastic production threatens our efforts to address the dual challenges of climate change and environmental injustice,” said Sen. Booker. “In fenceline communities near plastics facilities, residents suffer from exposure to harmful pollutants and increased rates of debilitating health conditions such as cancer and heart disease. To address these environmental injustices, I am proud to introduce this legislation to create nationwide targets for single-use plastic source reduction and to pause permitting of new and expanded plastics facilities while the EPA makes much-needed regulatory updates to protect communities.”

“Many of us know and live by the three R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle—in the hope that as long as we put our plastic items into blue bins, we’ll protect our environment and our communities,” said Sen. Merkley, who serves as the Chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee overseeing environmental justice and chemical safety. “Unfortunately, when it comes to plastics, the three B’s are much more common—plastic is buried, burned, or borne out to sea—which means dangerous chemicals are seeping into our air, water, and soil, threatening Americans’ health everywhere, and disproportionately in communities of color and low-income communities. With plastic particles ending up on the snowcaps of the arctic and inside our own blood streams, it’s clear we need strong legislation to get this plastics crisis under control. I look forward to working with colleagues in both chambers to get these solutions into place and protect the health of all Americans.”

“Plastic pollution isn’t just a problem for our oceans and climate – it’s a massive environmental injustice, directly impacting frontline and fenceline communities throughout the plastics lifecycle,” said Rep. Huffman. “My bill will protect the health of our communities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis, and stop the fossil fuel industry’s petro-dictatorship as it eyes plastics as a safety net. The clock is ticking, and we will keep working on this next Congress – but we are sending a message here and now to put oil and gas companies on notice. Our communities must come first.”

“As a society, we have become addicted to harmful fossil fuels, and our plastics crisis is another ever-present reminder,” said Congressman Lowenthal. “The evidence is clear: the plastic waste crisis is not simply a solid waste issue, but is intimately tied to climate change, environmental justice, and international human rights – as the production and pollution of plastics harm public health, the environment, and our climate. Simply shifting our dependence from one application of fossil fuel to another is not the answer. Continuing to overburden vulnerable frontline communities is not a solution.”

“Lives continue to be lost from the petrochemical industry’s deadly pollution and outsized carbon emissions, which also drive climate change,” said Astrid DuBois, Legislative Coordinator of WE Act for Environmental Justice. “The Protecting Communities from Plastic Act will safeguard Communities of Color and areas of low income, who are most impacted, from the burdens of inequitable facility siting and require cumulative impact considerations in the permitting process.”

“We are thrilled to see a bill that prioritizes the health and safety of frontline communities in calling for a reduction in single-use plastics and a pause on new or expanded plastic and petrochemical facilities. For too long, Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities have suffered the worst impacts of the plastic pollution crisis – from the extraction of fossil fuels to plastic production and incineration. It is time to hold the petrochemical industry accountable for the harm and injustice they create by poisoning our air, water, and soil, as well as by fueling the climate crisis. The Protecting Communities from Plastics Act is an important first step towards replacing toxic and harmful petrochemicals with real solutions like nontoxic reuse and refill systems,” said Melissa Aguayo, US Regional Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic.

“The Protecting Communities From Plastics Act is a critical step towards addressing the sweeping harms caused by the petrochemical industry at the root of both the climate and the plastic pollution crises. It also ensures that the U.S. does not continue to rely on harmful systems that perpetuate single-use in the form of chemical recycling or incineration: the legislation will prevent the EPA from including chemical recycling technologies in the national recycling strategy, and will instead focus on making less plastic in the first place,” said Dr. Anja Brandon, Associate Director of U.S. Plastics Policy at Ocean Conservancy.

“There isn’t a part of our planet that remains untouched by plastic. As plastic pollution piles up in our waterways, oceans, and landfills, and is burned in incinerators, the oil and gas industry is doubling down on the production of plastics and other petrochemicals. Plastic is harmful at every stage of its life cycle from extraction to disposal, contributing to climate change, releasing toxic chemicals, and finding its way into our bodies – even the bodies of newborn babies. The Protecting Communities From Plastics Act will reduce our reliance on unnecessary plastics, protect the health of the families living in the fenceline communities located near plastics facilities, and expand our understanding of the effect of plastics on the human body. Moms Clean Air Force commends Senator Booker and Representative Huffman for introducing this bill and urges its swift passage,” said Melody Reis, Senior Legislative Manager of Moms Clean Air Force.

“Plastic production is out of control, and frontline communities are suffering the most from the noxious pollution this industry releases into the air and chemicals it dumps into the water,” said Blake Kopcho, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The only way to keep plastic out of our air, water, wildlife and even our own bodies is to make less of it. Holding petrochemical companies accountable for the toxic substances they create and profit from makes a ton of sense, and we need bold legislation like this act to do it.”

“Plastic pollution is far more than a trash problem that can be solved by recycling. From polluting our air and water to extending dependence on fossil fuels, plastic production is toxic at every stage. We applaud the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act for calling out the ongoing harm plastic manufacture has on human and planetary health, and providing a much-needed course correction toward the safer, healthier and more sustainable future we all deserve,” said Jennifer Savage, Plastic Pollution Initiative Senior Manager, Surfrider Foundation.

The Protecting Communities from Plastics Act is cosponsored by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13th), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20th), Nanette Barragán (D-CA-44th), Ted Lieu (D-CA-33rd), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12th), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA-11th), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3rd), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13th), Mike Quigley (D-IL-5th), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1st), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1st), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3rd), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9th), Mike Levin (D-CA-49th), and Sean Casten (D-IL-6th).

A list of endorsing organizations can be found here.

Full text of the bill can be found here.