As Democrats in Congress try to finish their climate spending plan, the head of one plastics group told an industry conference he sees only "lukewarm" support for a virgin resin tax advocated by some lawmakers.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, have pushed to include a 20-cents-per-pound virgin resin tax in the reconciliation spending plan they hope to wrap up this week.
But Tony Radoszewski, the CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, said at an Oct. 26 online conference that he did not see a lot of support in Congress for the resin tax legislation, known as the Reduce Act.
"We're not sure how much support there is for this bill," said Radoszewski, speaking at the online Global Plastics Summit. "Our activity on Capitol Hill indicates that outside of Sen. Whitehouse, it's getting kind of lukewarm support."
Whitehouse introduced the Reduce Act as standalone legislation in August, but in early September industry sources and congressional leaders said it was listed among more than 20 potential funding sources for the Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation environment and social spending plan.
Lobbying has been heating up around the resin tax. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, D-N.Y., introduced it in the House in late September and said he and Whitehouse wanted to include it in reconciliation.
As well, industry and environmental groups have been campaigning. Major environmental groups weighed in and the American Chemistry Council said industry associations were spending $1 million on a campaign against it.
In an Oct. 26 statement, ACC reiterated its opposition to a resin tax and said it wanted to work with members of Congress on a federal legislative plan it released this summer.
"ACC remains opposed to a resin tax in any legislation," the group said. "However, we would welcome working with Congress to support our '5 Actions for Sustainable Change' to meaningfully address plastic waste in the environment and create a more circular economy for plastics."
Radoszewski's group also sent a letter Oct. 5 from more than 60 of its member companies to congressional leaders urging them to reject the tax as part of reconciliation, saying it had not been properly vetted legislatively and asking instead for public hearings around using recycled content.
Neither Whitehouse's nor Suozzi's offices responded to a request for comment, but Oceana, one of the groups that signed Whitehouse's letter, said it believes interest in the tax is building.
"We're seeing growing support for a tax on virgin plastic resin used for single-use products on the Hill and outside of it — and by the amount of advertising we're seeing from the plastics industry encouraging people to oppose such a tax, we're surprised to hear they believe it to have only lukewarm support," said Christy Leavitt, Oceana's plastics campaign director.
In his presentation at the plastics summit, which is sponsored by consulting firm IHS Markit, Radoszewski said there's not enough recycled resin capacity in the U.S. to meet demand and a virgin resin tax would threaten the industry.
"We want to use more recycled plastic but … we don't have enough infrastructure to produce enough recycled plastic," he said. "That makes the Reduce Act and that 20-cents-per-pound tax on virgin resin a huge threat to our industry."
He called the Reduce Act "Washington's biggest cash cow of all time."
"Part of our challenge has been that we've been unable to have an audience with the senator on an ongoing basis or go through any hearings," Radoszewski said.
Whitehouse, however, has said his legislation is a "plastics polluter fee" that's designed to "help recycled plastics compete with virgin plastics on more equal footing" and address the harm of plastics in the environment and to low-income and minority communities.
Congressional Democrats are hoping to finalize the reconciliation plan this week.
President Joe Biden has told reporters he hoped to have an agreement before he heads to Europe, where he'll attend a Group of 20 meeting in Italy and a climate summit in Scotland.
Congressional Democrats are trying to scale back an initial $3.5 trillion, 10-year plan down to between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion to maintain support in their party's caucus.