Rhode Island legislators on June 21 killed a plastics industry-backed plan to ease the approval path for chemical recycling facilities after the proposal picked up significant opposition from environmental groups and state regulators.
But a plastics industry group, the American Chemistry Council, said lawmakers were missing a chance to attract investment that could help clean up plastic waste and had been taken in a by a "misinformation campaign" from opponents.
The surprise announcement that killed the plan, in the form of a statement from two powerful Democrats in the state House, came after the state Senate had given its approval to the proposal earlier this month
The two senior Democrats who killed the plan, House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski, issued a joint statement June 21 that their colleagues had significant questions.
"We are a member-driven body and our members have spoken to us loudly and clearly that they have serious unresolved questions about this bill," they said.
The statement did not detail those questions, but the proposal has drawn significant opposition from environmental groups and the state's Department of Environmental Management, which fears it would curb its ability to properly regulate the facilities.
"Our interpretation is that if this legislation were to pass, DEM would not have authority to require permitted activities or otherwise regulate these facilities under our solid waste regulations," DEM spokesman Michael Healey said. "Also, how much these facilities would be regulated under our air pollution control regulations is unclear."
The bill would have changed the regulatory requirements for permitting advanced recycling, as chemical recycling is also called. It passed the state Senate on a 19-14 vote June 7.
The ACC's plastics division and other industry groups have been pushing bills in state legislatures around the country that would classify the facilities as manufacturing plants rather than waste disposal operations.
They say that change is needed to clear up regulatory uncertainty and accelerate investment in technologies to increase plastics recycling rates.
But opponents argue that chemical recycling is largely untested at commercial scale for turning waste plastic back into new plastic, and they contend that since much of it may go into fuels, it amounts to little more than burning plastics.
ACC has made a significant push in New England for the legislation this year, and has scored one victory.
The state government in New Hampshire became the 19th state to adopt such a law on June 17, when Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation.
"Fewer plastic in landfills is a good thing and I commend the legislature for supporting this commonsense environmental initiative," Sununu said in a statement.
With New Hampshire's decision, at least four states this year have adopted legislation favored by the industry, including Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky.
But the industry's regulatory agenda has also run into concerns from lawmakers in Michigan and skepticism in other state governments, including among a recycling advisory body set up by the California legislature.