Senate Considers Legislation to Reduce Plastics in Waterways, Incorporates NACWA Input

(November 20, 2019) – Members of Congress have been working across the aisle over the past year to develop and advance bipartisan legislation to reduce the prevalence of marine debris and trash in the nation’s waterways.

A comprehensive package, dubbed “Save our Seas 2.0 (SOS 2.0)” was developed and split between several Senate Committees of Jurisdiction –Environment & Public Works; Commerce, Science & Transportation; and Foreign Relations.

NACWA discussed early drafts with Committee staff and appreciates their addressing the Association’s thoughts and concerns into their final draft. This effort seeks to build on the success of SOS 1.0, legislation to amend the Marine Debris Act which was signed into law in 2018.

Last week, the Senate’s effort took an important step forward as the final Committee of Jurisdiction marked up its legislation. The SOS 2.0 legislation – collectively S.2260, S. 1982, and S.2372 , now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

S. 1982, which passed out of the Commerce Committee last week, would require a report to Congress from the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee on microfiber pollution. This report, to be completed within 2 years, would define microfiber pollution and assess its sources, recommend standardized methodology for its assessment, and provide recommendations for reducing microfiber pollution and for how federal agencies can work with stakeholders to address the issue.

This bill also establishes a Marine Debris Foundation and a Genius Prize to spur innovation in reducing plastic pollution in waterbodies, and would require the National Institute of Standards and Technology to study available mass balance technologies that might be used to certify circular polymers.

S.2260, which passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee on September 25th, includes several other provisions of direct interest to POTWs and stormwater agencies. The bill requires EPA to develop a strategy on addressing trash pollution in waterways, including urging EPA to consider how stormwater plans can help reduce trash loading.

The bill authorizes several new infrastructure grants to improve plastics and trash management. Grants would be directed at POTWs to provide assistance for investments to reduce post-consumer materials and plastic waste from water systems and to drinking water utilities seeking to address plastics or microfibers. A “Trash Free Waters” Grant program would also be funded to support investments preventing trash from entering water bodies, such as stormwater best management practices, skimmers, trash wheels, and the like. The bill also directs EPA and the National Academies to conduct a human health and environmental risk assessment on microplastics, including microfibers, in food supplies and sources of drinking water.

Finally, S. 2372, which passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee, aims to improve global engagement on marine debris.

These comprehensive, non-regulatory bills have collectively received notable bipartisan support, and talks are underway in Congress regarding how to advance them through the full Senate and House. They have, however, received some criticism from advocacy groups who fault them for not going far enough – advancing a status quo of recycling and materials management rather than a more drastic change.

Despite those concerns, these bills have strong support and NACWA will monitor their progress in both the House and Senate. NACWA is also engaged in providing comments on separate legislation that aims to reduce the use of single-use plastics and improve labeling. NACWA will provide further information as that bill is introduced later this Congress. Contact Kristina, Surfus, NACWA’s Legislative Director, to discuss.