U.S. lawmakers target plastic pollution, producers in new legislation

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Thursday will introduce comprehensive legislation to curb growing plastics pollution by making producers accountable, drawing sharp criticism from the plastics and petrochemicals industry.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act sponsored by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Representative Alan Lowenthal of California, both Democrats, would force producers to handle waste, ban some single-use plastic products and pause permits of new plastics plants, among other measures.

It comes in response to projections that global plastic production will triple by 2050, accounting for 20% of global oil consumption. The United States produces more plastic waste per capita than any other country.

“Plastic pollution is a full-blown environmental and public health crisis, whose impacts are being felt in every corner of our country and in our inner cities by black, brown and low-income communities where a lot of the burning contaminants are in the air,” said Merkley.

“We want to make sure that corporations take some responsibility for the impacts of their products.”

The legislation builds on a bill the lawmakers introduced last year that never got a vote. Lowenthal said it strengthens environmental justice and other provisions and has “tremendous movement and momentum” this year with a Democratic-controlled Congress and a president who has prioritized the environment.

He said it resembles actions taken by some states and other countries.

Two days before the bill’s rollout, industry groups and chemicals companies held a press conference denouncing the bill, saying it would reduce production and limit advanced recycling technologies they are developing.

Chris Jahn, president and chief executive of the American Chemistry Council, urged congressional leadership to deem the bill “dead on arrival.”

“This bill would threaten lives by interrupting the manufacture of critical, life-saving materials; suffocate economic growth; and threaten our environment and any hope of making progress in the fight against climate change,” Jahn said.

Environmental groups said advanced recycling technologies are nonviable and that industry should focus on producing less plastic.

Lowenthal said it was time for the industry to be regulated.

“Industry is concerned about it because the time has come to really do a comprehensive approach,” he said. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Chang)