Washington — Congressional Democrats want to turn Biden administration guidelines against single-use plastics in national parks into federal law, arguing it's needed if the White House changes hands.
Senate Democrats unveiled a bill Sept. 6 that would require the National Park Service to quickly develop plans to reduce disposable plastic bottles, carryout bags, foodware and expanded polystyrene products in parks, following the announcement of similar legislation by House Democrats in July.
The Democratic lawmakers said they support a plan last year by President Joe Biden to have the Department of the Interior write guidelines to reduce single-use plastics on its lands by 2032 but want both faster changes and for the policy to be written into law.
"We need to codify this measure to ensure it remains the law of the land regardless of who is in the White House," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., one of the authors of the new bills.
The bills would require the park service to develop policies within 180 days to phase out those four types of plastic products, including foodware labeled compostable or biodegradable, and subject those policies to two-year reviews.
The legislation, however, does note some factors that may limit a switch.
For example, it directs the parks to consider costs and benefits to operations, including the price tag for building refill stations and implications for current contracts with concessionaires. It also says the parks should consider safety for visitors who may not bring enough water and could wind up drinking from unclean streams or other sources in parks.
The legislators said they wanted to write into law administrative policies first put in place by President Barack Obama, allowing parks to phase out single-use plastic water bottles. Those were later reversed by President Donald Trump.
"Single-use plastic production threatens our nation's most special places, and inaction to protect these spaces is unacceptable if we want to ensure our treasured national parks are safeguarded for generations to come," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the lead author of the Senate bill.
The issue crops up periodically in Congress.
Merkley and other senators wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in 2021 urging her to do more, and Quigley and House colleagues wrote Haaland last year, after the Biden policy announcement, joining environmental groups in asking her to speed up the plastic phaseouts.