Washington — The debate in Washington over a potential tax on virgin resin is heating up as industry, environmental groups and congressional Democrats have stepped up campaigns around what would be the first federal fee on single-use plastics.
An industry coalition of more than 20 groups sent a letter to congressional leaders Sept. 27 opposing efforts by some lawmakers to include the plastics tax in the $3.5 trillion spending and climate plan Democrats hope to pass soon.
On the other side, the main Senate backer of the tax, Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, released a letter Sept. 28 from 20 environmental groups urging that it be included in that or other upcoming legislation, saying that "in our current political moment, we can't afford to pass on the opportunity."
Whitehouse and Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.J., were pushing for the tax, a 20-cent-per-pound fee on virgin plastic, to be part of the Democratic spending plan. Whitehouse said in a statement he saw support for the plastics fee growing, although it's not clear if the tax will ultimately be part of any final legislation.
To add to the murky picture, the fate of the larger $3.5 trillion bill is in limbo, with Democrats in Congress postponing a related $1 trillion infrastructure vote late Sept. 30 because of disagreements about the size of the $3.5 trillion effort.
The head of one plastics group said it believes the organizations have made some progress in blunting movement on the resin tax and said industry has spent more than $1 million advocating against it.
"We've had a very significant investment that is well over seven figures, working to educate lawmakers in the House and the Senate … on the resin tax," said Joshua Baca, the vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council.
Besides ACC, the industry letter was signed by the Plastics Industry Association, the Flexible Packaging Association, the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors and the National Association for PET Container Resources.
"We have been really robust in our advocacy on Capitol Hill, educating both on why the resin tax is bad, and more importantly, that we have a federal plan to deal with this," Baca said. "And that message is resonating with a variety of pragmatic lawmakers."
ACC released a plan in July calling for federal legislation requiring 30 percent recycled content in plastic products by 2030 and endorsing producer responsibility systems requiring companies to shoulder more of the financial cost of local recycling programs.