After a federal lawsuit in Texas last year resulted in a record $50 million settlement against Formosa Plastics Corp. for large-scale leaking of plastic pellets into waterways, state regulators there are now proposing getting tougher with rest of the industry.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is considering new rules that could essentially require 155 plastic resin plants and large processing factories in the state to eliminate pellet leakage into the environment from their factories.
While the agency's plans likely won't be final until the second half of 2021, industry officials in Texas say the changes TCEQ is floating could be costly, in the millions of dollars for many plants to rework their operations.
The Texas Chemical Council said the new rules are a response to public pressure from the Formosa court case, the largest settlement in history for a citizen-initiated Clean Water Act lawsuit.
"The lawsuit and the settlement, I think, was a wake-up call to everyone in the industry," said Hector Rivero, TCC president and CEO. "It created a little bit of a stir. It probably wasn't a best practice and is not something that I think Formosa or industry is real proud of."
But Rivero said the industry wants to address the problem, regardless of what TCEQ does.
"We respect where the TCEQ is coming from and we recognize the political pressure," Rivero said. "No one wants to find plastic pellets in any open water, whether it's a river or a stream or the ocean. We don't want to see that either.
"We are embracing the fact that we want to make sure we can effectively mitigate plastic pellets and powders and flakes," he said.
It's not clear yet what specific steps state regulators will recommend. Environmental groups in Texas are also weighing in, urging TCEQ to take much tougher positions around enforcement and regulations.
TCEQ so far has only released broad outlines of what it could do. It said it plans to unveil more detailed proposed rules in April, get public comments on those and make a final decision in September 2021.