Plastics bill signed by Newsom after legislature gives green light

In this 2020 file photo, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, right, sponsor of SB-54, the plastic reduction bill signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday, discusses legislation at State Capitol in Sacramento.

In this 2020 file photo, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, right, sponsor of SB-54, the plastic reduction bill signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday, discusses legislation at State Capitol in Sacramento.

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A week ago, the prospect of an agreement on California’s plastic reduction legislation seemed unlikely.

The bill was wedged between environmentalists who said it was not progressive enough and business interests who wanted more control. He had not even seen his first vote in committee. After serving in the legislature for four years, all signs pointed to a fifth.

Lawmakers and environmentalists were therefore emotional Thursday when SB-54, a massive bill that would force producers to cut plastic production, passed the Senate 29-0 and earned Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature.

“That’s what our constituents are asking of us – they’re saying, ‘Take these measures off the ballot if you can get them fixed in the legislature yourself,'” said Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, who pitched the bill. of law. “It was an example of the legislature doing its job, coming together, forging a meaningful and strong compromise that will put California at the forefront of solving a global problem.”

In the Senate Thursday morning, lawmakers praised Allen, along with the coalition of business and environmental advocates who worked to make SB 54 happen. Allen first introduced the bill in December 2018, and it has repeatedly failed. But it has attracted more attention this year as lawmakers touted it as an alternative to an expensive ballot initiative with similar goals.

The bill goes require California producers have reduced single-use plastic packaging and food tableware by 25% over the next ten years. It will charge plastic resin producers and manufacturers $500 million a year, money that will go towards conservation efforts. The measure builds on the Extended Producer Responsibility model, developed by the state Department of Recycling and Resource Recovery (CalRecycle) to take producers responsible for the impacts of their products.

“The plastics industry spends millions of dollars each year to trick the public into believing that all plastic packaging is recyclable,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Berkeley Ecology Center. “Now they will have to rethink their packaging strategies or pay the full cost of their impacts.”

SB-54 got its first vote Tuesday in the Natural Resources Committee. As she delivered her remarks, President Luz Rivas confessed that a week earlier, “I didn’t think this hearing would take place.” Rivas wasn’t alone – Alexis Jackson, head of ocean policy and plastics at the Nature Conservancy in California, said Thursday’s vote was something “many people thought was impossible”.

SB-54 has come under criticism – some lawmakers and environmentalists don’t like that it grants producers the power to self-regulate. But last week, some environmental groups that opposed the bill backed down.

Late changes

In the days leading up to the bill’s first hearing, Allen amended it to clarify that it would effectively ban styrofoam. The late amendments also increased the state’s ability to revoke the approval of producer responsibility organizations and asserted that producers “must take financial responsibility for the full life cycle of their products,” according to the spokesperson for the government. Bill, Kevin Liao.

Additionally, environmentalists behind the ballot initiative, which would require reduction targets to be met two years early and leave producers less power, said Wednesday they would drop the measure if Newsom signed on. the SB-54. As of Thursday afternoon, the measure was listed as “withdrawn” on the Secretary of State’s website.

Petitioners Linda Escalante of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Caryl Hart of the California Coastal Commission and Michael Sangiacomo of the waste management company Recology wrote in a statement that they originally launched the initiative after watching the legislature “fail to repeatedly” to adopt reforms to fight plastic pollution. .

“We, the three petitioners, will leave the final decision on the ballot to the State Assembly and Senate,” they wrote. “If our elected representatives believe we can achieve the laudable reforms of SB54 and defend its provisions against industry tactics aimed at maintaining the status quo, we will withdraw the measure once it is signed by Governor Newsom.”

Other environmentalists, many of whom participated in SB 54 negotiations, celebrated the passage of the bill on Thursday. The negotiations lasted hundreds of hours in total, Allen said, with 25 stakeholders meeting regularly over the past seven months.

“This bill is a historic achievement,” said Mary Creasman, executive director of California Environmental Voters. “California is poised to systematically address the plastic pollution crisis – the first state in the nation to do so.”

But while the petitioners agreed to drop the initiative, they stopped short of celebrating.

They emphasized that for SB-54 to have the desired impact, implementation is important and expressed concern that industry will not end up taking the actions outlined in the bill.

“While some have claimed that SB 54 is the toughest plastic pollution policy ever adopted in the United States, we are less interested in hyperbole and more focused on how the policy will be implemented and enforced,” the petitioners wrote.

Melissa Romero, senior legislative director of California Environmental Voters, agreed that implementing the bill would be crucial. She noted that it contains remedies for a lack of industry action; if the plastics industry does not meet SB-54 targets, the state is granted the ability to regulate plastic production.

“Corporate responsibility, of course, is a really critical aspect of climate policy and plastic pollution policy in general,” Romero said.

Owen Tucker-Smith is a summer reporting intern at the Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau. He is a student at Yale University, where he studies statistics and is editor of the Yale Daily News.

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