Legal, Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Tsunami Debris
August 30 2017

What’s Happening at the Federal Level on Plastic Pollution

by Angela Howe

In the waning weeks of summer and those leading up to International Coastal Clean Up Day on September 16th, many Surfrider members are confronting the issue of trash on the beach at the local level. However, there are also several priorities at the national level concerning marine plastic pollution:

Rescission of National Parks Bottled Water Ban

In a move that harkens back to the removal of solar panels from the White House and the return of foam food containers to Capitol Hill, this month the National Parks Service rescinded its official policy on the elimination of disposable water bottle sales.

This is the culmination of a years-long attack on the National Parks that have wisely banned single-use plastic water bottles in an effort to encourage hikers and park visitors to use reusable water bottles. The leaders of these Parks saw the plastic bottle waste piling up in the waters and landscapes of our nation's invaluable public parks. So in 2011 dozens of National Parks acted to encourage the public to adjust their throwaway consumer lifestyles and move to reusable water bottles. Parks that went bottled water free dramatically reduced their plastic footprint and made water refill stations easily accessible. However, this year, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) turned from lobbying members of Congress to lobbying the Department of the Interior directly. This resulted in the Administration’s rescission of a six-year–old policy aimed at easing plastic pollution. 

Save Our Seas Act (aka “SOS Act”)

There is also an active federal bill in Congress aimed at reducing marine plastic pollution and marine debris. The Save Our Seas Act of 2017 (S.756) will ensure that NOAA can continue its work researching and ultimately preventing trash in our marine environment. The bi-partisan bill has passed the Senate and is currently being considered in the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.

The legislation would also (1) provide funding to states for cleanup and response required by severe marine debris events; (2) require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator to work with other federal agencies to develop outreach and education strategies to address both land and ocean-based sources of marine debris; and (3) would codify Congress’s desire that the President support strategies to address marine debris and mitigate its impacts on the ocean.

This bill is also intended to help with international action to reduce marine debris. One major opportunity for international collaboration is the 6th International Marine Debris Conference scheduled for Spring 2018, which is co-sponsored with NOAA, along with the United Nations Environment programme. The conference will be held in San Diego, California, and will have a number of panels describing marine plastic pollution advocacy and outreach methods.

You can ask your federal Representative to help pass the SOS Act of 2017 here

Trash Reduction Act

The United States uses approximately 100 billion plastic bags each year. In an effort to dramatically reduce plastic pollution and a waste of natural resources, Representative Alan Lowenthal is sponsoring the Trash Reduction Act of 2017. The bill is still in draft form, but will be an updated version of H.R. 3977 from the 114th Congress. When introduced in 2017, this bill would ban the distribution of single-use carryout plastic bags by grocers and retailers and require a minimum 10-cent fee on paper and reusable bags. The bill would allow reusable bag giveaways in certain circumstances, and the funds raised would go to the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund. Single-use plastic bag ordinances have been adopted at the state or local level in over 21 U.S. states, and this legislation would bring that great idea to the national level.

Contact your federal Representative today to urge him or her to be a co-sponsor on this important legislation! 

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