Merkley Steps Into Chairman Role on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee Overseeing Environmental Justice and Chemical Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today announced that he will serve in the 117th Congress as the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s subcommittee that oversees chemical safety, waste management, environmental justice, and regulatory oversight.

“While the climate crisis will affect us all, we’ve already seen that the worst consequences of pollution fall on communities of color and communities with the fewest resources,” Merkley said. “I will do all that I can in my new role to listen to, and fight for, those communities so we can tackle racial inequities and make sure that every American—regardless of the color of their skin or where they live—has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

“For decades, corporations and megapolluters have accelerated climate chaos and poisoned our communities. They’ve burnt massive amounts of fossil fuels, fueled an explosion of plastics pollution, dumped hazardous chemicals into our soil and waterways, and sold asbestos and other deadly chemicals to unsuspecting Americans. We can’t keep letting the wish lists of corporate executives take precedence over the health and safety of our communities. I am committed to using my new role to fight climate chaos and plastic pollution by holding polluters accountable, and to get dangerous products off of our shelves.”

The new chairmanship gives Merkley jurisdiction over various bills he championed last Congress, including the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, which would ban the importation and sale of asbestos in the United States; and the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act—a priority for Oregon’s coastal communities—which would require big corporations to take responsibility for their plastic pollution, incentivize them to make reusable and recyclable products, and spur investment in U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure. 

“I’m proud to have Senator Merkley as a leader on the Environment and Public Works Committee this Congress. He is an invaluable advocate for our climate and environment, working tirelessly to ensure that all our communities have access to clean air and safe water,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Senator Carper. “This is the first time in the Senate’s history that environmental justice is a named, key priority for a subcommittee—a long overdue development. The critical mission of justice and equity should be front and center of all our work, and I know Senator Merkley will be an effective champion for that effort in this new role.”

Merkley will also be at the forefront of legislation governing the Superfund program, which is tasked with cleaning sites that have been contaminated by hazardous waste. A 10mile stretch of the Willamette River in North Portland was designated a Superfund site in 2000, following years of pollution and the detection of the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals (cadmium, lead, zinc), dioxins, furans, polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), arsenic, DDT, and mercury.

Merkley—who has previously teamed up with his colleagues to introduce legislation to improve health equity and climate justice for all—will also remain a member of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus.