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The Fix Is In, As Big Plastic Flexes Its Lobbying Muscle In the Virginia General Assembly

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by Glen Besa

Just when we thought that the General Assembly might look before it leaped into a questionable plastics recycling scheme (aka pyrolysis), the lobbyists for the plastics industry (the oil, fracked-gas and chemical industries) have apparently convinced General Assembly leadership that we should go ahead and allow the plastics industry to emit tons more of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) in the name of cleaning up the environment.

Last week, the House of Delegates had wisely decided to hit the pause button on Delegate Plum’s HB2173 that would have created a giant regulatory loophole for so-called “advanced recycling” of plastics by providing a year to look into industry claims and environmentalists concerns. But that was not acceptable to a smoke-and-mirrors plastics industry that has been lying to us for decades that plastic is recyclable while plastic waste litters our streets, chokes our rivers and fills our oceans.

The Virginia Senate willingly swallowed the plastic industry’s recycling claims and overwhelming passed Senator Hanger’s SB1164, a bill very similar to Delegate Plum’s legislation-both bills basically drafted by the plastics industry.

Environmentalists thought that SB1164, once in the House of Delegates, would be laid to rest in favor of that study of “advanced recycling” but that was not to be the case.  It turns out Senate leadership resorted to hostage taking, threatening to kill Delegate Carr’s HB1902, banning the use of polystyrene plastics in single use food containers, unless the House reversed course and passed Senator Hanger’s SB1164 exempting plastics pyrolysis from permitting related to solid waste management facilities.

Deal making and legislative hostage taking is nothing new, but sadly there is no time to weigh the relative merits of a state polystyrene ban versus the harm done by new sources of toxic hazardous air pollutants across the state. However, knowing first hand the poor job that DEQ does regulating toxic air pollution, I have to conclude that this deal stinks.

It looks like General Assembly leadership, particularly on the Senate side, is anxious to unleash tons of toxic air pollution mostly on poor communities of color in the name of economic development.  Brett A. Vassey, President & CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, enthusiastically noted in legislative testimony that we could see five or more of these facilities developed across Virginia in rapid succession.

The first community in the cross hairs of a toxics belching pyrolysis plant is Cumberland County where residents are already fighting a mega dump.  The air permit application for this Braven Environmental pyrolysis plant would emit more than 90 tons of EPA regulated Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) per year, and the permit application states that neither a public hearing or public notice is required before the permit is issued.

Cumberland County local officials are apparently alright with turning this rural county which is 30% African American into a toxics dumping ground in the name of jobs.  This is the typical devil’s bargain that local officials representing poor rural communities and communities of color often strike in the name of economic development because Virginia and our nation are not serious about environmental or economic justice.

In the closing days of this General Assembly it would appear that the fix is in unless the House calls the Senate’s bluff.  If the House goes along with this “deal”, look for toxics belching pyrolysis plants in other rural communities and in communities of color across the state.

Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and are not intended to reflect the opinion or the positions of any organizations with which he may be associated.  

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