Washington — Democrats and Republicans on a Senate environment panel have some sharply different visions of what environmental justice means for plastics manufacturing, at least judging by a June 15 committee hearing.
Republicans at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing accused Democrats generally — and President Joe Biden's administration specifically — of distorting the meaning of environmental justice or applying it unfairly.
Democrats, for their part, said they were exploring how to address pollution and high cancer rates in communities along petrochemical zones, including the concentration of plastics resin plants in the Louisiana corridor known as Cancer Alley.
The ranking Republican on the waste management subcommittee, Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, used the hearing, titled "Impacts of Plastic Production and Disposal on Environmental Justice Communities," to accuse Democrats of moving the idea away from its original meaning.
"Today's hearing highlights an original novel idea called environmental justice that has been transformed away from its original intent of helping poor and marginalized communities with specific needs, into a social movement Democrats have taken over to push progressive policies forward under the disguise of social and racial equality," Mullin said.
And Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the Biden administration had a "double standard" around environmental justice in his state for declaring that fossil fuel production and pipeline development would not benefit communities.
"This is ridiculously naive, in my view," Sullivan told the hearing. "And what I worry about sometimes is when we talk about environmental justice, the native people, the indigenous people of my state, always get left out of the Biden administration's views."
Sullivan began his remarks by noting he had worked closely with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., on two pieces of bipartisan ocean pollution cleanup legislation, the Save Our Seas laws.
He ended his comments saying he was concerned about policies that could push plastics manufacturing overseas.
"One thing I do worry about is that if we crack down on plastics here, production of that, it's just going to drive it overseas to China, places that don't have strong environmental standards like we do," Sullivan said.