One of the biggest concerns for the plastics industry in Congress is the economic impact from legislation that would pause new resin plant permitting and construction.
But for Yvette Arellano, executive director of the Houston group Fenceline Watch, the concerns are different. She monitors the impact of pollution from plastics plants on nearby communities.
Arellano told a June 30 congressional hearing on recycling and plastics legislation that a pause in resin plant permits could give her community a small breather from exposure to industrial chemicals.
In personal terms, she talked about the health problems for residents along the 50 miles of the Houston ship channel and its petrochemical corridor, which she said accounts for 59 percent of U.S. plastic resin exports.
"With difficulty I testify as one of many who suffer from irregular periods, sterility and skin lesions," she told the online hearing. "[The legislation] would temporarily pause new and expanding facilities and give agencies and Congress the time needed to investigate cumulative impacts and ensure facilities integrate the latest technology to prevent further pollution."
In her testimony, Arellano said there are more than 90 plastic facilities in and around the channel, with 184 expansions and new plants planned.
The plastics industry currently makes up nearly a fourth of the industrial pollution in the Houston area, and resin exports through Houston are growing, she said.
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held the hearing to look at four pieces of legislation, including the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and the Clean Future Act, which is the House Democrats' main climate legislation.
Both of those bills include three-year pauses in resin plant permitting while the Environmental Protection Agency writes new rules.
While it's not clear whether such a permit pause could move through Congress, opposing it has been a priority of the plastics industry and it generated back-and-forth at the hearing.
Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, told the hearing such a pause would impact plastics industry jobs, raise costs and weaken supply chains. He called it the "most concerning component" of both Break Free and the Clean Future Act.
"Proposed moratoriums on permits for new or expanded manufacturing facilities would be devastating to our industry and nearly 1 million workers we employ in the United States," he said. "These proposed bills would push plastics production to other countries."
In response to a question from West Virginia Republican Congressman David McKinley, who suggested litigation around any pause means it would last more than three years, Seaholm suggested it could be open-ended.
"That's certainly our biggest concern. ... It's considered a temporary pause, but because of the way it's written, there is no for certain end date for that pause," he said.
"We have members who have to apply for permits every five years and any expansion or new component or their facilities could trigger this temporary pause and ultimately result in potential shutdowns or simply moving production to a different place," Seaholm said.
A pause on resin plant expansion would impact more than just plastic production around single-use plastics in packaging, he said, and could imperil manufacturing supply chains broadly.
"Especially when we're looking at the moratorium on new plastics manufacturing facilities, it would cover every type of plastic imaginable," Seaholm said. "These pieces of legislation would cover everything from food packaging to even automotive parts, when it comes to the production of plastic."
Those comments came in response to a question from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the top Republican on the full committee. McMorris Rodgers is in line to potentially chair the Energy and Commerce Committee if Republicans win control of Congress in November.
She told Seaholm that she wants to improve recycling but highlighted economic worries over the Break Free and Clean Future bills, highlighting partisan divides on the issue.
"I think my biggest concern is around our threatening our standard of living and our economic competitiveness," she said.
A 2021 study from the American Chemistry Council said a permit pause could spill over and reduce production at existing resin plants by 10-20 percent if they struggle to get needed permits.
One congressional author of the permit pause, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., however, said ACC was ignoring environmental justice concerns.