Democrats in Washington have put a provision mandating tougher regulations on pellet discharge from plastic factories in the $715 billion fast-track surface transportation spending plan that the U.S. House of Representatives approved July 1.
The measure, which now goes to the Senate, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to quickly write national rules to "prohibit" discharge of pellets from plastics facilities.
For plastics firms, it could become a standard part of permits, require expensive upgrades and elevate pellet containment issues during government inspections.
It was inserted into the must-pass transportation bill by California Rep. Alan Lowenthal, one of the authors of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.
Supporters say it's needed to close regulatory loopholes on a large source of plastics in the environment, and they hope it's part of the Senate transit and water infrastructure plan.
They point to support from the second-ranking member of the Democratic caucus, Majority Whip and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.
But plastics business groups are opposing Lowenthal's amendment in the House's Invest in America Act and said they view the industry's voluntary, 30-year-old Operation Clean Sweep program as an alternative.
"We are concerned that, as written, a provision within this legislation opens the door to regulatory overreach that could subject countless small plastics operations across America to heavy-handed federal enforcement," said George O'Connor, spokesman for the Plastics Industry Association in Washington. "The plastics industry has made strides to address this very issue through Operation Clean Sweep and OCS Blue."
The American Chemistry Council, which jointly administers OCS with the plastics association, said it wanted to see OCS as the basis of laws. It called Lowenthal's plan "punitive."
"Adopting Operation Clean Sweep practices federally would enable EPA to require protective action to mitigate discharge risks," ACC said in a statement.
Critics of OCS, however, have argued that the voluntary program is inadequate for the scale of the problem and have urged mandatory efforts. They argue that with little public reporting over OCS' history, it's impossible to know if it's been effective.
And they point to a recent shareholder vote at DuPont as a sign of rising public concern. At the company's annual meeting in April, 81 percent of shareholders voted in favor of a pellet pollution plan pushed by environmental investors.